Mary Ellen passed away peacefully, her loving family at her bedside, after a brief bout with pneumonia. She was 75.
Mary Ellen was born on Easter Sunday in Lenox, Iowa. She moved with her family to Wadena as a young girl. During the height of the polio epidemic, Mary Ellen contracted the disease and nearly died at age 15, but was saved by several months spent in an Iron Lung.
Once Mary Ellen was well enough to return home, the community and the school system rallied around her. Her classmates carried her up and down flights of stairs in those pre-ADA days to make sure she could attend classes. She graduated as co-valedictorian of Wadena High School Class of 1955.
She went on to attend St. Cloud State College and in 1959 graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in speech correction, and minors in literature and psychology.
In the fall of her senior year, she married her college sweetheart, Jerry Kollodge. They lived in Boston, Minneapolis and Los Angeles while Jerry started his career as an optical engineer in the aerospace industry. Their seven-year marriage produced three children, Kristine, Patrick and William (Bill).
Mary Ellen moved back to Wadena in 1967 to raise her three young children in her hometown, under the roof of her loving parents, Amanda and Everett Kennedy. The Wadena school district was in need of a speech therapist, and Mary Ellen was hired for the job. She worked in that capacity 30 years, retiring June 30, 1998.
Raising three children as a single mom while working full time was not easy, but to do so from the seat of a wheelchair made the job that much harder. As with all challenges, Mary Ellen faced it with cheerful determination. She became a fixture of the community, playing a leadership role at St. Ann's Catholic Church, MEA, Council on Disabilities, AAUW, the library, Delta Kappa Gamma, Courage Center, Sister Kenny Institute and several other causes and organizations.
She was the recipient of many awards, one of which was the 1973 Rose and Jay Phillips Award at Courage Center, presented to her by Julie Nixon Eisenhower. To say she touched many lives is an understatement. Her impact was profound.
Mary Ellen was a dedicated speech clinician and helped hundreds with their speech impediments, including working with children with special needs and hearing loss. Indeed many of these former students - now grown - credit the positive influence that she had in their lives. "Mrs. Kollodge," as she was known around the school halls, was truly a mentor, and inspired her students to have confidence in themselves.
She was actively involved with Wadena Council on Disabilities, whose objective was to educate and inform on what should be done for accessibility. Through her efforts, curb cuts were installed around town, and she was instrumental in procuring improvements at the local post office and other buildings.
As her brother, Bill Kennedy, said on her last day on earth, "She blossomed wherever she went." In 2004, Mary Ellen moved to Sisters, Ore., to be near her children and grandchildren. She was excited about this next "adventure" in her life. Characteristically, her first order of business was to weave the social web that would sustain her. Red Hats Society, Solitaires, ChildFund International, Habitat for Humanity, Sisters Senior Center (for whom Mary Ellen created the monthly newsletter), St. Edward the Martyr Catholic Church (where she served on Parish Council for eight years) and the Tea Committee were some of the organizations and causes into which she poured herself.
To put it simply, Mary Ellen was a giver. When she saw someone in need of help, she found a way to offer assistance. She was a true and loyal friend to so many. An avid reader, she had a curious nature, and her interests covered the world. She lived in the present and kept up with current events.
An engaging conversationalist, Mary Ellen expressed her opinions freely and she was always open to listening to the other side. She looked forward to attending the Lunch and Learn series at the Sisters Public Library, eager to learn something new. Also, she loved a good game of Scrabble, and liked playing games in general, especially with her young grandchildren.
Family was Mary Ellen's pride and joy, and fun times abounded with mom/Grandma Mary. She is and forever will continue to be so loved, and her beautiful and radiant smile, sharp wit, intellect and sometimes risqué sense of humor will be missed.
As her cousin Ray recounted, "Mary Ellen had such good spirit. I remember the summer before she got polio. She had come to visit Ree Heights, S.D. That vivacious spirit hit that little town like a tornado! When we heard that polio had laid her low, all were so sad. But ... there was that spirit ... always bubbling forth. Determination prevailed. Spunkiness prevailed. She did it all! She continued to show her care and love to all those around her. Her presence at the family reunions was treasured. She wanted to know each and every one there. We have all been blessed ... for years and years ... just to be in the presence of a spirit like hers. May all of our sadness be mixed with gratitude ... and wonder. May her spirit and determination be in all our hearts."
Mary Ellen is survived by her children, Kristine Rérat (Philippe) of Sisters, Ore., and their daughters, Rosita and Claire; Patrick Kollodge of Prineville, Ore.; William Kollodge (Mutsuko) of Silverton, Ore., and their children, Mack, Lily and Sage; and her brother, William Kennedy (Carol) of Encinitas, Calif.
She was preceded in death by her parents, sister Ruth, and a sister, Marjorie, who died in infancy.
A funeral Mass will be held 11 a.m. Feb. 9 at St. Edward the Martyr Catholic Church in Sisters, Ore.
Memorial donations honoring Mary Ellen may be made to the following 501c3 nonprofit organizations:
Wadena Regional Wellness Center Fund, Initiative Foundation, 405 First St. SE, Little Falls, MN 56345.
Post-Polio Health International: Research Fund (www.post-polio.org).
Southern Poverty Law Center, a national organization that combats hate, intolerance and discrimination through education and litigation (www.splcenter.org).