Mary Joann (Koehnen) Nelson, 89, of Minnetonka, Minnesota, passed away peacefully on February 1, 2024, surrounded by her beloved family and devoted daughters. Mary’s daughters cared for her around the clock so she could have her wish of staying in her home.
Mary was born to Clarence and Regina Koehnen in Glencoe, Minnesota, on May 30, 1934. Mary had six brothers: Lamont, Douglas, Mark (Eloise), Tommy (Ethel), John (Judy), and Bobby (Mik).
Mary grew up on a farm in Glencoe, Minnesota. She was the only girl in a house full of boys and had an adventurous spirit. When Mary was little, she might jump off the roof trying to fly or sweep out the barn pretending to play house. Mary was active in 4-H and developed a love of animals and nature. Eventually, Mary left Glencoe and moved to Minneapolis, living in an apartment with five other ladies.
While working at MN Rubber & Gasket Mary met the love of her life. In 1956, Mary wed Robert (Bob) Nelson. Bob and Mary shared a love story that endured for 67 years and inspired countless dreams. Their love granted them the joy of raising nine beautiful children: Barb (Dan), Jimmy (Katie), Gary, Laura (Graeme), David (Charlie), Allen (David’s twin brother who is no longer with us), Linda (Rory), Chad (Sammy), and Sarah (Joel). Mary’s family, a legacy and testament to enduring love, is thriving with thirteen grandchildren and twelve great-grandchildren, eagerly anticipating another precious addition.
Mary’s love is her legacy and that legacy of love will live on through her greatest accomplishment- her family- the bedrock of her existence. Family was the heartbeat of her world. Mary’s home was vibrant, always buzzing with family and friends. The kitchen counter is famous, the hub of endless impromptu and planned gatherings, a place to drink coffee, share a meal, a laugh, or a heart-to-heart. Mary was the matriarch, the maestra, and always the star of the show.
Mary brought people together, quick to love, laugh, and start the fun. She was always first to act out a challenging phrase in a game of Charades. She was never afraid to laugh at herself, had a flair for purple and sparkly things, fancied eccentricity, and loved costumes, wigs, and costume jewelry. Mary was full of surprises–she might be dressed up in a costume with her partner in crime and sister-in-law Ethel to bust the kids at a party, dressed up in a fancy wig for a day of shopping, or first in line to play the minute-to-win-it Junk in the Trunk game at Christmas. Regardless of the occasion, Mary was a humanitarian and an altruist–always finding a way to include all the people she loved or those who needed love. She saw the best in people. She did her best to find ways to help others in need. She did this by taking in strays–it didn’t matter if it was an animal or a person. Mary had room in her heart and home for everyone. Her compassion was second to none, and her love was gravitational; it pulled you in.
In addition to a wonderful marriage and raising a beautiful family, Mary had a long, successful career as the original domestic engineer and everyone’s favorite cleaning lady. Mary never really retired; in typical Mary fashion, her life evolved. Mary was a hobbyist. She loved cooking, was a Blue Ribbon bread baker at the Mcleod County Fair, and was the original thrifter/upcycler, making many trips to Goodwill, Salvation Army, Bethesda, and countless garage sales. She never turned down an opportunity for a quick stop at a random garage sale or thrift store on a road trip. She kept scissors in the car to stop and collect wildflowers or weeds. She was an artist who used unusual mediums like weeds, orange and apple peels, feathers, fur, and creamer containers.
She loved razzing telemarketers and scammers. Mary’s adventurous spirit continued right up until she passed. She loved planning and taking trips with her daughters.
Mary led a beautiful life filled with devotion to God and her people; she was a beacon of light. Mary’s light continues to shine in her family and good works. Her legacy is rooted in faith, love, humanitarianism, environmentalism, creativity, generosity, and pizzazz for life. As Mother Teresa said, “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier,” and Mary did just that; she spread love and happiness everywhere she went. She was love. Mary Nelson: another legend has gone but will never be forgotten.
Mary’s celebration of life will be on Friday, February 9, 2024, at St. Therese of Deephaven, 18325 Minnetonka Blvd, Wayzata, MN 55391.