Mary Jean Edstrom, who loved living in Winona from 1944 until 2000, has passed away at her home in La Jolla, Calif. She was surrounded by family and friends and love.
Mary Jean was married to Everett Leonard Edstrom, co-founder with his brother, Hal, and their partner, Roger Busdicker, of the world’s largest print music publishing company, Hal Leonard Publishing.
She grew up in Mapleton, Minn., and graduated from high school in 1941 – president of her class. As a youngster her parents, Les and Eve Cronen, encouraged her to take dance lessons at which she excelled.
When Mary Jean applied to the University of Minnesota she intended to become a nurse. That dream ended unexpectedly when she saw her first operation: “Too much blood,” she explained to a professor and immediately applied to the MacPhail School of Fine Arts. She was accepted, majored in dance, and never looked back.
Immediately she was putting her dancing talent to patriotic use during WW II performing with the USO at Fort Snelling in St. Paul. Soon she was teaching dance professionally for Arthur Murray Dance Studios in Minneapolis with aspirations and offers to move to Hollywood and pursue an acting career.
Then life took a wonderful turn.
When she was 17 she had seen the Hal Leonard Orchestra, one of the most popular bands touring the Midwest (a band whose origins could be traced to Winona State Teachers College as it was known then). The leader, who was born in Worthington, Minn., caught her eye. In 1944 her brother, Jim, introduced Hal Leonard, i.e. Ev Edstrom, to Mary Jean. It was love at first sight followed soon by a marriage proposal on Garvin Heights.
This presented a problem: Ev had offers to take the Hal Leonard Orchestra to New York and tour nationally; Mary Jean still had Hollywood on her mind and was receiving offers to audition in Los Angeles. In fact, her sister, Lois, had already moved there and was a featured performer with the nationally renowned Ina Ray Hutton All-Girl Orchestra.
After a serious but brief conversation Mary Jean and Ev recognized they wanted to be together much more than be apart and that show business was not conducive to raising a big family. So, professional plans were put aside; they stayed in Minnesota and raised a family of five in Winona: Steve (San Francisco), Patricia (Redondo Beach, Calif.), Kris (Los Angeles), Kate (Edina, Minn.) and Kim (La Jolla, Calif.).
As their family grew Mary Jean began teaching youngsters at Mary Edstrom’s School of Dance. She was also heavily involved in community activities: the first woman to serve on the board of a local bank (Norwest), first woman on the board of the Winona YMCA, a member of the board of the Winona Community Memorial Hospital, a member of the Winona Country Club board of governors, and an ongoing participant in fundraising for local charities.
In 1986 Mary Jean and Ev bought a home at Ironwood Country Club in Palm Desert, Calif. Ev played golf in retirement and Mary founded a popular interior design company, The Finishing Touch.
In 2000 Ev passed away. Thirteen years later at the age of 90 Mary Jean moved to La Jolla to be closer to family. Life there in a villa overlooking the Pacific continued to be filled with family, friends and fun – bridge, yoga, cardio classes and staying current with technology including her iPhone, iPad, iPod, iMac and more.
Mary Jean Edstrom never wavered in her strong family-based view of what was most important in her life. She coupled that with community service in Winona, teaching youngsters to dance, starting a successful business in her 70s, and her awe-inspiring ability to enjoy her life from start to finish including the joy of two grandchildren, Taylor and Skyler, and two great-grandchildren, Anthony and Isla Rose.
But in spite of seemingly having located the fountain of youth, time had not forgotten her; after 94 years her great and generous and beautiful heart tired, as did she. On Monday, April 16, at 5:06 p.m. Mary Jean Edstrom joined eternity.
Mom’s legacy is the awe-inspiring performance she gave of how to live a loving life filled with fun and service. She may have left us, but she is not gone.