Laura Laitala Jorgenson died Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, at Northern Lights Health Care Center in Washburn, Wis., just shy of her 100th birthday. She was born Feb. 12, 1914, to Maria and Matti Laitala at their homestead on Shagawa Lake near Ely, Minn.
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Her childhood exploring the border lakes of Minnesota and Canada gave her a lifelong devotion to wilderness and outdoor adventure. Laura graduated from Ely High School and Ely Junior College, where Sigurd Olson was her biology professor. She received a degree in social work from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis in 1937. While employed as a child welfare worker in Duluth, Minn., she met Harold T. Jorgenson "Jorgy," and they married on July 5, 1940. Their life together took them to many parts of the world.
When her husband was drafted into World War II, they moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked for the Red Cross and gave birth to daughters Linda and Lisa. In 1956, they bought a small farm in McLean, Va., which they maintained until they retired. They lived most of their years in and out of McLean until Harold's death in 1997. In 1998, she moved to Washburn to be near her daughter.
In 1947, her husband was hired by the Department of Interior to develop a land use plan and natural resource inventory for the Territory of Alaska, and they moved to Anchorage. Laura loved their "pioneer" days there where they built their own house and had their sons, Eric and Torre. She was active in the community, helping found the Spenard Presbyterian Church, an electric power co-op and the Anchorage League of Women Voters.
From 1952 to 1954, they lived in Cairo, Egypt, where her husband worked on land reform for the "Point 4" program. While Jorgy worked on land reform in Bogota, Colombia from 1961 to 1963 for Kennedy's Alliance for Progress, and in Recife, Brazil from 1965 to 1967, Laura enthusiastically embraced raising her family in these new environments. She taught English and promoted girls' outdoor skills as an early president of Colombia's Consejo Nacional de Guias Mujeres.
During their years in McLean, Va., she continued to be active in community affairs. She was president of the Northern Virginia Council of Girl Scouts, a member of the Great Falls Garden Club and the local PEO chapter. While at Redeemer Lutheran Church in McLean, she and Jorgy spearheaded their church's collaboration with a group of tenant farmers in Halifax County in southern Virginia to form a credit union, co-op and thrift store. Her children never remember parking the family car in the garage because it was always filled with thrift store items. At Luther Place Church in the District of Columbia, they helped found the N Street Village, a women's homeless shelter.
Adventuresome, and undaunted by having young children, Laura traveled widely wherever they lived. En route to Cairo in 1952, she traveled around Europe with her two daughters, ages 5 and 7, and her 6-month-old son, Eric. In 1956, headed "stateside" from Alaska, she and Jorgy drove down the unpaved Alaska Highway with 8-year-old Lisa and infant son Torre.
Passionate about history and nature, Laura explored the jungles of Colombia, Lake Titicaca and the Andes, and the deserts of Egypt and northeast Brazil. In retirement, Laura and Jorgy continued to explore the world, but they especially relished their wilderness adventures with their sons in Montana and Alaska.
Her greatest joy, however, was returning to her beloved lake country in Ely, Minn., to stay at the homestead and keep close ties with her extended family. Laura endowed many people with a love for the wilderness, organizing many extended family canoe trips throughout the BWCA and Quetico areas. Best of all, she liked to have fun, organize parties at the Ely "Big Shack," play cards and spar wits with anyone who was game. Laura loved to read, was a fierce advocate for progressive and environmental causes, and was proud of her Finnish heritage and the egalitarian and democratic political traditions of the Midwest.
Laura is survived by her two daughters, Linda Jorgenson (Jack) Gunderson, of Washburn, Wis.; Jean Lisa Jorgenson (David) Doniger and their children Perrin, Cynthia and William Doniger, of Washington, D.C.; and her son, Mark Torre (Janet) Jorgenson, and their children, Eric and Karen, of Fairbanks, and numerous nieces and nephews.
She was preceded in death by her husband, Harold; her son, Eric Lowe; her parents; her four brothers and her two sisters and their spouses.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. with prior visitation from 10 to 11 a.m. Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, at the Messiah Lutheran Church in Washburn, Wis.
Laura expressed her deepest appreciation for the staff of the Northern Lights Health Care Center for their years of thoughtful care. In lieu of flowers, donations are welcome to the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, the BRICK in Ashland, Wisc., the Messiah Lutheran Church, or Northern Lights Health Care Center.
The Bratley Funeral Home in Washburn is assisting the family with arrangements. To view this obituary online or express online condolences, please visit bratleyfamilyfuneral-homes.com.
Published in Daily News-Miner on Jan. 24, 2014
Bratley Funeral Home
10 E Bayfield St Washburn, WI 54891