Cover photo for Mary   Garst's Obituary
Mary   Garst Profile Photo
1928 Mary 2014

Mary Garst

March 25, 1928 — October 19, 2014

Mary Garst Eulogy 10/25/2014 by Sarah and Mary Garst, with assistance of Mary's other daughters and friend Chris Henning Mary Garst, 86, died as she lived, actively and with self-determination, in her home in the woods near Coon Rapids, Iowa at sunrise Sunday October 19, 2014. Despite advancing heart disease, she met her goal to live long enough to cast her ballot and hope for a Democratic victory. Mary, daughter of Warren, Jr. and Eleanor Hubbard Garst, was born on or around March 25, 1928 in Des Moines, the youngest of four children, joining Charlotte, Tom and Nancy. The family moved a few years later to Jefferson, Iowa and remained there, where Mary attended school through tenth grade. Her mother gave her the opportunity to finish high school at Monticello, a girls' boarding school near St. Louis, where she graduated Valedictorian. Mary graduated Magna Cum Laude from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota with a degree in history, and attended her 65th class reunion this summer. She was awarded an honorary Doctorate from Carleton in 1977, and received an Outstanding Alumni Achievement Award in 1999. In 1949 she married her second cousin Stephen Garst and briefly attended graduate school at Stanford University, considering law school, until Stephen completed his undergraduate degree there. Mary returned with Stephen to his hometown, Coon Rapids, where he farmed and she concentrated on home and family, raising six children: Elizabeth (Darwin Pierce) of Coon Rapids, Edward and Sarah (Jeff O'Donnell) of West Des Moines, Rachel and Kate (Leland Searles) of Des Moines, and Jennifer (Steve Libbey) of Ames. "Emma" also loved her six grandchildren: Reuben Garst (Janae Hill) of Broomfield, Colorado, Luis "Quique", Ana and Helen Garst of Des Moines, and Nora and Owen Trampe of Des Moines. Being a child of the Depression and of a Victorian mother, Mary knew how to pinch a penny, and diligently made most of the children's clothing and prepared six proper sit-down dinners every week. On Sundays, supper alternated between popcorn and milkshakes and corn meal mush on a special blanket in the living room. Each child was allowed one bottle of pop per week. Mary trained her children to work hard, to be responsible, to do their share, and to ALWAYS write thank-you notes. They were only disciplined for failing to be on time for dinner, being caught with her sewing scissors, sniffing within her earshot, and sneak-reading after bedtime. Though a voracious reader herself, Mary would not read to the children. They were told to learn to read for themselves, while her nose was buried in a book, and they did! All of the children had weekly Shoppers News routes, and starting in Junior High, were required to either be in sports or work for Garst Company - IF they wanted an allowance. Included in her few failures was that she was unable to master parallel parking and was unable to convince her children to follow her example and tailgate. Mary was proud to raise children who were fiercely independent thinkers, readers, and advocates for community, civil liberties and social justice, just as she and Stephen were. She credited her cousin John Chrystal for introducing the family to civil liberties through the ACLU of Iowa. Though a lifelong atheist and Democrat, Mary staunchly defended the right of each of us to our own beliefs, and was interested to share and discuss those beliefs. As a pacifist, she marched with her children and mother-in-law Elizabeth Garst in the Vietnam moratorium parades. Mary was a consummate hostess, making guests feel special and welcome, whether hosting a picnic, a barn dance, or an elegant party. She had the ability to listen well, and her insights were thoughtful and often spot-on. She donated gallons of blood to the Red Cross and countless hours to good causes and her community. The family spent many Sundays in the woods along the Middle Raccoon River and came to cherish the land. Within a year of Stephen's death in 2004, Mary, together with her daughters and sister-in-law Tosh Lee, established Whiterock Conservancy, a non-profit land trust of over 5000 acres in the Middle Raccoon River valley southeast of Coon Rapids. Whiterock Conservancy is restoring the landscape back to native bur oak savanna and prairie, modeling innovative sustainable ag and conservation practices, and fostering research and appreciation of natural history, biodiversity, and outdoor recreation. This spectacular gift, the largest land gift ever made in Iowa, invites your use and support. A world class back country trail system is being built that will allow hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding, as well as low-powered electric carts for the mobility impaired. Though a hunter with rotten aim, Mary was proud of her Master turkey trophy. One year at the annual Garst deer hunt, she bagged a large buck. Hunt Master Dean Jackson stretched the deer out on the ground and then Mary lay down beside it to show how large it was, for an infamous photo that Charlie Nixon, Coon Rapids Enterprise editor, captioned "Which one is dead?" Mary was a devout Democrat and supported candidates locally, statewide, and nationally. She exhorted her friends to vote, and instigated lively debates and discussions. She served on the League of Women's Voters committee on redistricitng in the 1960's, creating a non-partisan plan that, over 50 years later still serves as an exemplary model for other states in how to re-district fairly. When her youngest child Jen started school in the late 60's, Mary embraced the women's movement and radically transformed her life, eschewing the role of housewife for life as a feminist and working woman. The household and family adjusted as she committed herself to a new non-domestic career. Kate, 12, was hired as the family cook, and Stephen and the children became more self-reliant. Initially Mary sat uncomfortably on a horse heat-detecting cows for Garst Company, repeating the mantra "I am not scared. I am not going to fall off", but found herself better suited to record keeping, with her feet on the ground. Her advise to other women seeking respect and power was to find a niche and become indispensable. She did that by taking full advantage of newly emerging computerization, and the 6000 head Garst beef breeding herd was the first ever to be computerized and performance tested. Within a few years, Mary became Garst Company's Cattle Manager, and after an initial gaffe when she asked Doc Shirbroun to examine a cow's paw, she became a widely and highly respected cattlewoman offering an excellent product with fine genetics. She was an outspoken advocate for performance testing of progeny, rather than using show rings as the basis for genetic selections. She was on the state and national boards of the Simmental Association, serving as the first female president of any state cattle organization, and was honored by the North American Cattle Breeders Association as Cattle Breeder of the Year. She retired only ten years ago, when the herd was sold. Mary's unique position as woman working in agriculture positioned her as an ideal, and often first female member of a number of boards, including the Chicago Federal Reserve Board (first woman and first agriculturist), Northwestern Bell Telephone, Burlington Northern Railroad, and International Harvester. Though she was perhaps appointed as a token, she determinedly and relentlessly proved herself to be a knowledgeable, long-term, and respected board member. Mary served on the Home State Bank board in Jefferson, with a hiatus during her six years on the Chicago Federal Reserve, ultimately buying the bank where her father had been CEO. She was honored to guide the bank and its charitable foundation's support of the community and its projects. She was awarded the Greene County Tower of Fame award in 1998 for her state and national achievements and in recognition of her commitment to the community. Mary was also a valued director of many non-profit boards. She served on the boards of Children and Family Services; both state and national Planned Parenthood; the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) of Iowa as board member, president, and long-time special solicitor; Iowa Commission on Economic Development; the Science Center of Iowa; the Des Moines Symphony; Carleton College; Drake University; and the area Regional Library. She was a founding board member of the Iowa Environmental Council and SOAR (Save Our Avian Resources). Mary was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame in 1981, and was honored to have a chapter in Louise Noun's 1992 book More Strong-Minded Women. She served as a role model, mentor, and inspiration to her daughters and to countless girls, women, and the disenfranchised to desire and acquire confidence, voice and power. An inveterate reader, often having a book (or two, or three) by every chair in the house, she recommended and discussed books, authors, and ideas with family and friends. While Jane Austen was her favorite author, she also read contemporary fiction, history, and political analysis, with a little trash thrown in. Her support of libraries was well known, and on road trips every small town library was noted, if not visited. Mary volunteered year-round for Planned Parenthood's book sales for many years. Mary's six grandchildren knew "Emma" to be an engaged, active, interested and loving grandmother, who read to them and encouraged their creativity and intellect. She was both fun and funny. She attended many of their events and they loved going to her house for her special breakfasts. She could touch her nose with her tongue, and could occasionally be induced to show off her crepe-paper belly. Mary thought it important that all children be able to swim, and to that end she anonymously established a fund so that every family in the Bayard-Coon Rapids school district who qualified for lunch assistance could buy a family season pass to the coon Rapids pool for $5. She has ensured that the program will continue. Mary's hobbies included reading, bridge, travel, symphony, opera, Christmas caroling, and golf. She was a beautiful swimmer, participating in synchronized water ballet as a young woman. She was an avid fan of Michael Jordan, rarely missing a televised game when he played, and she always carved out time to watch the four major tennis classics, Masterpiece Theater on IPTV, and the movies. A wonderful conversationalist, Mary relished the support of friends, and was a vital member of the Widows' Democratic State Park Group, her Powell Recovery women's support group, and many bridge and book clubs over the years. She delighted in the selection of her Honorary Pallbearers, some of whom preceded her in death, and all of whom she admired and who enriched her life. Mary chose her two sisters Charlotte Harrison (d), Nancy Garst, Elaine Mason, Arlene Wanninger, Ruth Kenney-Randolph, Mary Ann Riley (d), Phyllis Durlam, Dusty Myers (d), Chris Henning, and Marilyn Garst. She particularly wanted to thank her new friends Jill Namanny R.N. of St. Anthony Hospice and her assistant Clarissa Kelly for their wonderful support and care. As Mary realized her heart was failing this summer, she made the conscious decision to enter home hospice and to subsequently stop her heart medications. She died six days later, having lived life on her terms, except that she had wanted to live until the election results were in. Her last words were "Damn, I forgot to brush my teeth!" Mary was preceded in death by her parents, her siblings Charlotte and Tom, and her husband Stephen. She is survived by her beloved sister Nancy and all six of her children and grandchildren, as well as many cousins, nieces and nephews, in-laws, admirers and friends. Mary donated her brain to Harvard University's NAMI (National Association of Mental Illness) project for schizophrenia research, and she has been cremated. A signature headstone will be placed in the Coon Rapids Cemetery. There will be a reception at her home in the woods Friday October 31 from 4:00 to 8:00 pm, and a memorial service at the American Legion Hall on Main Street in Coon Rapids Saturday November 1 at 11:00 am, with a luncheon to follow. Mary requested NO FLOWERS, but rather gifts to either Whiterock Conservancy or your choice of library, so that your gift will nurture her living legacy. She additionally urged you to VOTE. "He was right, dead right, as he sped along, But he's just as dead as if he were dead wrong" unknown Music "ADAGIO FOR STRINGS" S. BARBER "SYMPHONY NO. 2 ROMANTIC" H. HANSON "SYMPHONY NO. 2 - 2ND MOVEMENT" L. BEETHOVEN Honorary Bearers HER SISTERS: CHARLOTTE HARRISON AND NANCY GARST PHYLLIS DURLAM ELAINE MASON ARLENE WANNINGER RUTH KENNEY-RANDOLPH MARY ANN RILEY DUSTY MYERS CHRIS HENNING MARILYN GARST A Signature Headstone will be placed at a Later Date COON RAPIDS CEMETERY MARY REQUESTED DONATIONS TO WHITEROCK CONSERVANCY OR THE LIBRARY OF YOUR CHOICE INSTEAD OF FLOWERS.

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