Mary Jean Schmidt was born on March 9, 1925 in Dubuque, Iowa to parents Frank John Kuhn, Jr. and Emelia Lena (Reuschel) Kuhn. She was the middle child with older brother Donald Kenneth and younger sister Frances Joyce. Mary Jean lived her early years in Dubuque, where many of her maternal relatives lived.
In 1929, a job transfer took the Kuhn family to Mason City. The Depression years brought financial hardships and many moves around Mason City for the family and many school changes for the children. Mary Jean graduated from Mason City High School in 1943. She attended Mason City Junior College (NIACC) for 3 semesters. In early 1945, Mary Jean attended a special radio and radar training program in Minneapolis as part of the war effort. She later left the program and attended Augsburg College in Minneapolis, where she graduated in the spring of 1948 with a BA in Mathematics and minors in Social Studies and Secondary Education. She taught high school math in Isle, Minnesota the following year.
Throughout the 1940’s Mary Jean worked various other jobs in Minneapolis and Mason City: Land O Lakes butter, Younkers Department Store, Como Photo, and Central Show Printing Company. She also attended summer graduate classes in mathematics at the University of Minnesota in 1950.
On April 21, 1951, Mary Jean married Alferd Merle Schmidt in Savannah, Georgia at the historic Lutheran Church of the Ascension (after a complicated proposal, miscommunication and elopement that is now family legend). They returned to Iowa and made their home in Spencer, near where Al had grown up. Thus began her life as a contractor’s wife, living in two different family homes in Spencer that Al built and supporting the construction business that he ran out of their home for 37 years.
To this union were born three children: Mark in 1952, Kirby in 1955, and Julie in 1962. Besides raising children and supporting her husband’s business, Mary Jean volunteered at Bethany Lutheran Church for many years, teaching Sunday School and catechism classes, Altar Guild, Women’s Bible Study, creating countless posters and baking countless pies. In her later years she was a regular volunteer assembling Lutheran World Relief kits. She also made signs for the Clay County Fair Horticulture exhibits for many years.
Mary Jean was a bargain hunter, master garage sale shopper, artist, and collector of many things. She also sewed clothing for herself and her family and enjoyed knitting. She was a whiz at cryptograms and number puzzles and had a particular skill of remembering birthdates. She was a movie fan and especially liked Turner Classic Movies in her later years. Mary Jean loved the color purple and chocolate of any kind. Her childhood dream was to own a candy shop. She had a quirky sense of humor and strived to follow the rule, “If you can’t say anything nice, say nothing at all.”
Mary Jean was able to live independently in her own home until the age of 97, at which time she relocated to St Luke’s nursing home. She resided there until her death on December 28, 2023 at the Spencer Hospital.
She was preceded in death by her parents, husband, Al (2009) and brother, Donald Kuhn.
Left to cherish her memory are her sister, Frances Payne, son, Mark (Robin) Schmidt, son, Kirby (Sandi) Schmidt, daughter, Julie Schmidt (Lee Vogel), grandchildren: Rachel Hauck (Tom), Natasha Graves (Shane), Cedar Vogelschmidt and Wren Vogelschmidt, great-granddaughters: Annabelle, Harper, Willow and Madison, and many other friends and relatives.
Mary Jean’s family is extremely grateful to the nurses and staff at St Luke’s and Spencer Hospital for the excellent care they provided to her. Thank you.
In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts can be directed to Bethany Lutheran Church specifically for Lutheran World Relief kits.