Mary Jensen wasn’t a tall woman, but as far as family and friends were concerned, she was larger than life.
Nearly all of her 91 years were spent engaged in physical activity and community volunteering.
“She was up for anything — no matter what,” said her daughter, Nancy Barthuly.
The short list includes cross-country skiing, bicycling, golfing, snowshoeing, canoeing and kayaking; most begun or done between the ages of 50 and 90.
In her early 70s she went backpacking through Wyoming mountains with pack mules, recalls her son, Ken Hill.
“There was a canoe trip to the Boundary waters, and Mom took swimming lessons so she could go on the trip,” Nancy said.
“She was golfing until age 90 and only stopped because her friends had dropped out of the league,” said her daughter, Sue Hill.
“She was a mother like any other, other than the fact she had so much energy and made the most of every minute she lived,” Ken said.
Mary Frances Jensen died June 17, at her Kenosha home at age 91. Surviving her are her husband, Walter Jensen; her children: Susan Hill (Stan Smith), Barbara (Richard) Fiebelkorn, Kenneth (Sandy) Hill, Nancy (Scott) Barthuly; stepchildren Richard Jensen and David (Bonnie) Jensen, eight grandchildren, nine great- grandchildren, and dear friend Millie Carlson.
Mary was born on March 20, 1927, to Bessie and Lawrence Cherryholmes on a farm in Crawfordsville, Iowa. When Mary was 4 years old, a tornado destroyed the family farm, killing her grandmother. The rest of the family survived by rolling up in linoleum flooring.
After graduating from Crawfordsville High School in 1945, Mary moved to Milwaukee where she took business and secretarial courses. She worked at Cleaver Brooks and Fox Studios.
In 1954 she married Edison Eugene Hill and they made their home in Milwaukee.
Mary got involved in her children’s schools and delved into community improvement. “She went out to clean up one of the rivers there; she made us aware of environmental issues,” Sue said.
In 1971 the family moved to Kenosha and in 1973 Mary went to work at Riley Construction. There she did secretarial and payroll work. To update her skills, she took classes at Gateway Technical College. She learned computers and eagerly embraced technology, said family.
“She was the first one with a PC and a laptop….Even at 91 she was getting Snapchats from the grandkids,” Sue said.
Said Nancy, “She didn’t necessarily feel everyone needed to earn a degree, but she would say: ‘Just take a class. You will learn something, and it may lead you in another direction.’”
She took other classes as well, in art and sewing, and was a member of the Southport Quilters Guild.
“It was hard to keep up with her,” Nancy said.
Mary and Eugene’s marriage ended in divorce and in 1986 she married Walter Jensen.
At age 50 Mary took up bike riding and joined the Road Runners bike club. Mary and friend Millie Carlson rode all over, including annual organized long distance rides Mary pedaled through Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio, New York, and Minnesota.
In her eulogy about Mary, Nancy recalled one bike ride with her mother who insisted on continuing to ride after 14 miles. “My butt was sore, it was hot, my legs hurt, and I was thirsty. No, I did not want to keep riding. How could this 85-year-old be outdoing me? I wasn’t sure, but I was most certainly impressed.”
When she hung up her biking helmet at age 88, Mary and Millie had logged over 10,000 cycling miles together.
Retiring from Riley in 1996, Mary volunteered for the Shalom Center’s soup kitchen and INNs program, the Kenosha Literacy Council, the Midwest Therapeutic Riding Program, the YMCA, Habitat for Humanity, the Sierra Club, and Safe Harbor Humane Society.
When she wasn’t volunteering, Mary was cooking, canning and being the quintessential good neighbor. “She was the kind of neighbor who was always baking you a pie or getting your mail for you when you went on vacation,” Nancy said.
But Mary was “quiet and unassuming” about her good works, said her children. “We didn’t even know all of the things she did,” Nancy said.
Ken says their mother impressed everyone in the family. “It has made me and my wife think about what we need to do to contribute to society,” he said.
“She lived and led by example,” Nancy said.
Mary drove until she was 88 and her physicians were “in awe of her,” said Nancy.
“She absolutely refused to give up on living,” Ken said.
“She was just focused on moving forward,” Nancy said. “Her motto was, ‘Let’s go!’”