Mary Ellen Otremba, a popular, soft-spoken state legislator who represented Todd County and the Alexandria area for 13 years, died last Thursday. She was 63.
Otremba, A DFLer, was first elected in a November 4, 1997 special election that was held after the death of her husband, Representative Ken Otremba that September. She chaired the House Agriculture, Rural Economies and Veterans Affairs Committee, and was a member of the Ways and Means Committee. She also served on the Agriculture, Rural Economies and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee for the Veterans Affairs Division, and on the Finance subcommittees for the Agriculture, Rural Economies and Veterans Affairs Finance Division and the Health Care and Human Services Finance Division.
She was an assistant minority leader in the House from 2001-2004.
Born in Bertha in 1950, Otremba graduated from Long Prairie High School and attended the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph where she received a degree in home and community service. She later attended St. Cloud State University, receiving a master's degree in child and family studies. She worked as a nutritionist for the Todd County Department of Public Health from 1984—1989, as a teacher in the Freshwater Education District from 1986—1989, and as a teacher at Eagle Valley High School in Clarissa from 1989-1997. She also taught family and consumer science at Swanville High School and was a substitute teacher there.
In 2010, Otremba announced she wouldn't seek an eighth term. At that time, she issued a statement saying that it had been "an incredible privilege" to serve the citizens of District 11B in the Minnesota House of Representatives.
"There is no greater honor in a democracy than to be selected by one's fellow citizens to represent them in the halls of government," Otremba said in her statement. "I will always be grateful for the years I've had to serve in our beautiful Capitol, working to enhance the quality of life for all Minnesotans...Public service has been a part of my life, even before I came to the Legislature. In fact, it was my dad who brought me to my first precinct caucus. Since that day, I've never stopped working to shine a light on the wonderful things than make Greater Minnesota's quality of life so special. I will continue to advocate for the issues that matter most to rural Minnesotans - agriculture, the environment and conservation, health care, quality education and a firm commitment to protecting life from conception until natural death."
After Otremba stepped down, Republican Mary Franson of Alexandria defeated the DFL-endorsed candidate in Otremba's district, Amy Hunter, in the 2010 election.
Franson issued the following statement about Otremba's death:
"My heart mourns for Mary Ellen and the family she leaves behind," said Franson. "Mary Ellen was a dedicated public servant who represented the heart and soul of our community well. My thoughts and prayers are with her family."