MADISON - Ann Falconer, of Madison, Wis., passed away in her sleep on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, at Agrace Hospice in Fitchburg. Ann Lenore Drake was born on Sept. 7, 1929, in Sarona, Wis. She was the first of four children born to John S. Drake and Aurelia L. (Gyte) Drake. She was followed by Lillian "Betty" (George) Files of Redding, Calif., Steve (Alice) Drake of Middleton, Wis., and James (Ann-Charlotte) Drake of Stockholm, Sweden.
From her early years, Ann was an intellectual without being "an intellectual." Ann went to a one-room schoolhouse near the Hill Farms on Madison's west side. As the only student in her grade, she read every textbook and every other book the school could provide. She then started on the local libraries. Ann graduated from Madison West High School and continued her formal education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 1951, she graduated Phi Beta Kappa with honors with a B.S. in physical therapy. Later, Ann attended graduate school at the LaFollette Institute of Public Policy. She received an M.A. in 1988.
During high school and college, Ann worked at the UW Hospital during a major polio epidemic. This motivated her to volunteer for extra hours. She was joined by her sister, Betty, and soon, based on the contributions and reliability of the "Drake girls," the hospital created a new type of nurses' aide position that had additional responsibilities. While working at the hospital, Ann met her first husband, Winston Olson (deceased). He was in an iron lung at the time. They were married in 1950. They had three children, Alan (Nancy) Olson of Franklin, Wis., Susan (Ron) Probst of Cambridge, Wis., and Michael (Jaci) Olson of Cross Plains, Wis.
Ann was a pioneer in her field. For more than five decades, she was a tireless advocate for the rights of people with physical disabilities. Ann worked as a physical therapist at St. Mary's Hospital in Madison for over a decade, eventually heading the PT department. In 1965, she joined the Madison Public School District where she focused on helping children and their families. She remained with the school district until her retirement. Initially, Ann worked in the specialized PT and OT department at Lapham School. She later became integrally involved in the district's innovative mainstreaming program which greatly expanded access for all children to Madison Public Schools.
During her career and after her retirement, Ann was active in Wisconsin, Dane County, and Madison committees and advisory positions on people with physical disabilities; transportation commissions and committees; affirmative action committees; early childhood programs; legislative action committees; and more.
During this time, Ann met Michael Falconer, the Executive Director of the Governor's Commission on People with Physical Disabilities, and the love of her life. While their time was cut short by Michael's death in 1984, they traveled throughout the United States and Canada in a mega-sized, accessible, "tricked-out" van - including a few dizzying trips through the Rockies. Both she and her husband were present in Washington, D.C., for the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act which they had both contributed to, both directly and indirectly through years of work.
Ann lived a very full life. She was a voracious reader and a killer bridge player (with the same group of ladies for 60 years). She attended concerts and events in Madison and Milwaukee and could often be found enjoying the offerings at American Players Theater. She loved to travel both nationally and internationally.
She visited China, Africa, Australia, the Galapagos, Turkey, the UK and Europe, several Latin American countries, and even the Soviet Union and Leningrad (and later Russia and St. Petersburg). She took a schooner down the Nile River and rode a camel to the pyramids. She visited the polar bears in Churchill and watched whales above the Arctic Circle in Norway. Many of these trips included family and friends.
Towards the end of her life she was back at the library, becoming very involved with the Friends of the Madison Public Library.
Ann is survived by her brothers; her sisters-in-law; her three children and their spouses; five grandchildren, Michael Olson, Clayton Olson, Daniel Probst, Elliott Heim (Kristen Bergmann-Heim), and Carly (Drew) Vanderwert; two great-grandchildren, Korben Bergmann and Chloe Vanderwert; and numerous nieces and nephews.
Ann was preceded in death by her husband, Michael; her parents, John and Aurelia; her sister, Betty; her brother-in-law, George; and her granddaughter, Sara Probst.
Due to Covid-19, there will be no funeral. A Celebration of Life will be held at a later, safer time. Please share your memories at www.cressfuneralservice.com.
Cress Funeral & Cremation Service
3610 Speedway Road, Madison