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Mary Mikkelson


1923 - 2016 Obituary Condolences
Mary Mikkelson Obituary
Mary Kelsey Binder Mikkelson

February 17, 1923 - February 11, 2016

Also known as "Sis" and "Tommy," Mary Kelsey Binder was born in Chicago to Carroll Binder and Dorothy Walton Binder, who named her after the social worker Mary Kelsey who had introduced them when they worked with Belgian refugees during World War I. She spent her early childhood in Europe as her father covered the momentous events of the pre-war period for the Chicago Daily News. She and her older brother Ted later were joined by a twin brother and sister, David and Debby, before the family moved back to Chicago. There she attended elementary and high school, interspersed with adventures such as a summer bicycling across Europe and climbing in the Alps when she was 14, and another summer at a ranch in South Dakota where she learned to rope cattle. World War II broke out while she was attending Mt. Holyoke College, so she joined other students working on a farm to replace men who were drafted into the armed forces. Wanting to do something more useful for the war effort, she decided to transfer to the University of Minnesota to study nursing. It was there that she met her future husband, Vernon Edward Mikkelson, Jr., but before they married they both joined the Navy for the duration of the war. Mary served in the WAVES in Hawaii, while Ed was in the South Pacific.

They married in 1946 and took advantage of the G.I. bill to complete their education at the University of Minnesota. They had four daughters by the time Ed graduated from medical school in 1951, and the young family left for Oregon to start a new life, traveling by car across the country with diapers hanging out the window to dry. Ed started his medical practice in Grants Pass while Mary raised their growing family, eventually numbering six daughters. Never one to sit idle, Mary cultivated a large garden while managing the household as Ed went out on house calls at all hours of the day and night. Eventually the family moved to Portland, Oregon, where Mary added PTA president and Campfire Girl leader to her list of duties. After another move in 1964, this time to the Bay Area, Ed and Mary finally settled down in the home in Hayward where they would reside for the next 50-some years. As her six daughters grew older, Mary went back to school to get her teaching credential and from age 45-65 taught first grade at E. Morris Cox, an inner city school in Oakland, all the while pursuing her interests in backpacking, cross-country skiing, weaving, quilting, and of course actively supporting causes such as civil rights, world peace and environmental protection. The daughters gradually went off to college and began their own families, eventually giving Ed and Mary nine grandchildren. Ed died in 2000, and Mary, ever intrepid, kept up her political causes while gardening, quilting, jogging and basically never sitting still. One of her proudest accomplishments was hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon at the age of 79.

Mary was fiercely independent, continuing to do her own housework, shopping, cooking, yard work and home maintenance until the age of 92. She reluctantly agreed to move to an assisted living facility, where she spent the last year of her life making new friends and continuing to follow current events and write letters to dozens of friends and relatives. Finally she peacefully slipped away from this world surrounded by loved ones and pictures from all stages of her adventurous life. She was predeceased by her brother Ted, her sister Debby, her daughter Alex, as well as her husband Ed, and is survived by her daughters, Martha, Kathy, Kristin, Laura and Holly and their husbands; nine grandchildren; ten great-grandchildren, with the eleventh on the way; her brother David and his wife Helga; three nieces; four great nephews and two great nieces. The family is grateful to the staff at Eden Villa for their kind and warm care right up to the end. The world will never again see someone quite like our mother, but her legacy of standing up for what is right will live on in all of us.

Services will be held at the Starr King Unitarian Universalist Church at 22577 Bayview Avenue in Hayward, California at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 12, 2016. In case anyone would like to give a donation in Mary's name, some of her favorite charities were the American Friends Service Committee, CARE, KDFC, KQED, , the Mount Holyoke Fund, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Reporters Without Borders, and the Trust For Public Land.
Published in San Francisco Chronicle on Feb. 21, 2016
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