Marion (Hanson) Winrich passed peacefully from her sleep into eternal life during the pre-dawn hours of Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020. She was surrounded by family at her daughter’s home in Rochester, MN.
In March 2020, Marion began a month-long battle with double pneumonia in the hospital (Mayo Clinic Health Systems). She waged it with her characteristic strength, determination, and the incorporation of her dozen or more years of yoga. She met the challenge, grueling at times, without complaint, and with both courage and a deep abiding faith that God was present with her. There were seemingly touch and go moments during that month, but the doctors were amazed at her determination, lack of fear, and her ability to defy odds. Although she had recovered from the pneumonia, it had likely taken its toll on her heart and left her exhausted and depleted.
Marion had one final wish, though, and it was to leave the hospital and not die there. She expressed why and knew it made perfect sense to those who her. For Marion, nature was where she felt closest to God. She explained that (like her favorite Saint — Francis of Assisi who asked to spend his last night alive under the stars) she longed to be outside in the natural world once more; to look up at the sky, hear the birds sing, feel the sunshine and breeze on her face, and to drink clear spring water again. She humbly asked her family to call the Sisters of St. Francis and the Poor Clares at Assisi Heights in Rochester, MN with that prayer request. It was a Religious Community she dearly loved, and where she spent her last Christmas Eve and Christmas. Through the power of prayer, perhaps, and the gift of unbreakable faith, God in His great MERCY, granted his child, whose life-long gift was MERCY, one more beautiful day outdoors. Transferred to her family’s home in Rochester, with the help of Mayo Clinic Hospice Care, Saturday was a light-hearted and joyful day filled with memories, tender moments, laughter and with immense gratitude for her life. Those who witnessed it will never forget the cool breeze off the patio moving the wisps of her hair, and her face being radiantly aglow in the afternoon sunshine. She drank spring water with great pleasure, as her blue-eyed wink and smile confirmed. She was like that. It was the little things in life she appreciated and enjoyed. She was totally at peace, in no pain or distress of any kind when she went to sleep on that eve of Palm Sunday.
She was born Marion Isadora Mae Hanson at her grandmother’s home in Whitehall, WI on August 3,1932. She was the proud granddaughter of Norwegian immigrants, Paul Odden and Ingeborg Sagstugen Pedersen of ND, and Iver “AD” Hanson and Anna Ballruud of Pigeon/Whitehall, WI; the daughter of Olger Isadore Hanson and Mae Odden of Eau Claire, WI; the older sister of Olger “Sonny” Hanson (Judy Marie Shilling Froseth Hanson) of Eau Claire, WI; the wife of Robert Delano Winrich from 1953 to 1987, and the sister-in-law of Shirley Winrich Wolfgram of Eau Claire, WI. They all pre-deceased her.
She is survived by and was the proud aunt of Beth Wolfgram Mollé (Steve) of TN, Lori Wolfgram, Jeff Wolfgram (Tina) and Robert Wolfgram of Eau Claire, WI; and the loving mother of Cynthia Mae Winrich Poupard (Gilles) of Paris, France and Excelsior MN, and Jennifer Jay Higgins (Charlie) of Rochester MN; and the very proud grandmother of Charles Alexander Higgins of Rochester MN and Hannah Mae Poupard of New York City.
She is also survived by and was the gifted animal whisperer to her Puggle Riley; her cats Ivan, Lacey and Lucy (who now live with family in Rochester) and the many birds, rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, cats, bumblebees and other creatures who found their way to her hospitable back garden, where they lived in amazing harmony with each other. We are reminded that “the lion shall lie down with the lamb.” (Isaiah 11:6).
Faith in God and hard work were the bedrock on which Marion’s Norwegian, newly American, family built its home and life. Marion was the youngest student in a one-room schoolhouse in Pigeon Falls, WI. She was serious about studying hard in order to meet the same expectations as the older students. Perhaps this is where her life-long love of learning and later choice of a career in teaching took root, as well as her personality traits of tenacity, independence, and her courageous can-do spirit. And unsurprisingly, she also had perfect attendance throughout regular and church school. She had self-discipline.
Marion was an only child for 10 years. When she wasn’t studying or helping her family, she spent all her time outside, much of it alone, playing in the creek behind her house, but also in the fields and woods. Nature became her literal sibling and she saw herself connected and reflected in it. She said it was there that she developed her feeling that God had created all living things equally, and she later in life adopted a view of co-creation rather than human dominion. She said that it was also outdoors where she was able to hear God and enter into a mystical relationship through the non-silent silence. She found it to be the most comforting and pure form of prayer.
During her career as an elementary and special education and ESL teacher, she incorporated books about nature, brought animals into her classrooms, taught the science of weather and the solar system, all while teaching the ABC’s, writing and math. She also witnessed the diversity of nature, the stages of growing and dying in plants and animals, and it likely carried over and contributed to her compassion for people and all living things that suffered. As a child Marion visited Native American Indian reservations with her father and developed a curiosity and appreciation of diversity in the human population as well.
At first glance, Marion was the typical all-American girl. She was beautiful with her bouncy blonde curls, striking blue eyes and endearing white smile. She was intelligent, athletic, musical, well-rounded, easy-going, responsible, and got along with everyone. Yet, she was always humble and downplayed any awards or accomplishments she received; this was true for her entire life. She graduated from Memorial High School in 1952. She was on the volleyball team and loved all sports. She also played clarinet in junior high, in the high school band and marching band, and also in Sarge’s Eau Claire City Band. She loved music almost as much as nature and sports. She attended the UW-EC for one year, studying journalism, and was Co-Editor of the yearbook. She then moved to Minneapolis and earned her degree in early childhood education from the University of Minnesota. (Later in life she attended the University of Georgia working on her Masters in Special Education and studying Gerontology, at the same time her daughter Jennifer was working on her Bachelor’s there). She married her close friend from high school, Robert D. Winrich, in 1953, who was enrolled in seminary at the time. She recalled in later years how much she loved being a seminarian’s wife. They had their first daughter Cynthia and moved from Minneapolis to Carmen’s Bay on Lake Minnetonka. Marion’s first teaching job was at Excelsior Elementary School, where she instituted a program to help children of seasonal Spanish-speaking students. They had their second daughter Jennifer.
Marion’s husband decided to leave seminary and postponed his sights on Yale Seminary School. He entered the hotel and private-club business, where he aimed to make more money for his growing family. There he was to remain and it proved to have unfortunate personal consequences down the road for him. It also eventually created a lifestyle change for his family. Marion went from children with special needs to steak and lobster on white tablecloths. None of it changed her. She was known to come to the rescue of more than one housekeeper, about to be fired. She convinced her husband they needed their jobs to support their families. Marion always saw the dignity and need in every person, and acted on the compassion she had for those suffering. To her, the CEO, celebrity superstar and janitor stood equally on the same ground. Before relocating with her husband to Atlanta, she taught in the Robbinsdale MN School District for over a decade, helping to create new and different curricula.
Marion’s lifelong loves continued to be her family, her schoolchildren, animals, and also sports, music and theater, religion and social justice. Her children grew up with many animals and their mother also took them to church, riding, swimming, tennis lessons; but also believed that they should have ample free time outdoors in nature. She also took them to art centers and the theater from an early age, and of course football games.
It is hard to sum up a nearly 90-year-old woman’s life in an obituary. The bottom line for Marion was her genuine faith, substantial but without fanfare. She found meaning in it by both reaching inward (nature, prayer, yoga, reading, studying, contemplation, meditation, visiting convents and monasteries for silent retreats and spiritual growth for decades); and reaching outward: teaching; she especially appreciated those with special needs, working in soup kitchens, homeless shelters, visiting shut-ins and friends with dementia or addiction and those in the hospital or in assisted living, attending funerals, bringing winter clothes to her students without, giving rides to the elderly to vote, and participating fully in church such as being the director of Christian Education at St. Luke’s in Atlanta.
Marion appreciates all living things, from a tiny sprout to the large oak tree in her garden. And all animals filled her heart; dry pet food and water had an actual place in her trunk. The week before she entered the hospital, she was at yoga, which was essential to her life. She was centered in her faith and being and wanted to spend the rest of her days volunteering at the Chippewa Valley Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, and visiting the elderly. Marion’s spiritual director at the former convent of St. Bedes in Eau Claire said that Marion’s spiritual gift was mercy. Those of us who knew her knew she was the real deal; everything flowed from that deep childhood creek of mercy running through her heart. She is greatly missed.
In lieu of flowers, please make a donation in Marion’s name to the Sisters of St. Francis at Assisi Heights in Rochester MN or to the Chippewa Valley Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Eau Claire, WI.
A memorial service for Marion will be held at Noon on Wednesday, August 3, 2022 at St. John’s Lutheran Church, 1804 Highland Ave., Eau Claire, WI with Pastor Christine Emerson officiating. Visitation will begin one hour prior to the service at the church. Marion was buried in Forest Hill Cemetery, Eau Claire, WI.
Her brother, Olger “Sonny” Hanson will be buried at 2:30pm on Wednesday, August 3, 2022 at Forest Hill Cemetery with military honors from the VFW Post 305.
Lenmark-Gomsrud-Linn Funeral & Cremation Services is assisting the family. Online condolences may be expressed at www.lenmarkfh.com.