Kathleen Ridder, who championed women in politics and athletics as a Republican activist and lifelong feminist, has died at age 94.
Ridder was perhaps best known as the driving force and primary benefactor of Ridder Arena at the University of Minnesota, one of the first women’s ice hockey arenas in the country.
She died Monday at her home in Lantana, Fla., according to her family.
Ridder was a New York transplant who spent more than six decades in Minnesota “advancing the role of women in society,” said Marlene Johnson, the first female lieutenant governor in Minnesota, who became a longtime friend.
Although the two women belonged to different parties, they joined forces in 1982 to form the bipartisan Minnesota Women’s Campaign Fund (now known as “Womenwinning”) to encourage more women to run for office.
Even then, such cross-party collaboration was something of a rarity, said Johnson. Ridder “was very independent in that regard,” she said. “She was very committed to fairness and equality.”
Born in October 1922, Kathleen Ridder lived a riches-to-rags-to-riches story. Her father, a stockbroker, lost everything in the Great Depression, and her mother supported the family working in a dress shop. Kathleen was in college when she met her future husband, Robert Ridder, whose family founded the Knight-Ridder media empire. In 1943, the couple moved to Minnesota, where her husband eventually became president and CEO of WCCO Radio and Television.
A devout Catholic as well as a Republican, Kathleen Ridder embraced progressive causes from civil rights to the anti-Vietnam War movement. She supported legalized abortion and gay rights, and marched in favor of the Equal Rights Amendment at the 1980 Republican National Convention, when it was dropped from the platform
“Mother was very strong in her beliefs,” said her eldest son, Rob Ridder. She was also a natural athlete, he said, who wanted to make sure young women had the same athletic opportunities as men. That’s one reason she helped lead the fundraising effort for Ridder Arena.
She wrote three books, including a 1998 memoir called “My Feminist Life,” and served on the Metropolitan Council and the state Board of Human Rights.
Ridder eventually drifted away from politics, her son said, but she “never wavered on being a feminist.” She was widowed in 2000.
In addition to her son Rob, she is survived by children Kathleen Ridder Crampton, Peter and Christopher Ridder; six grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. A private memorial service will be held. In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations to Planned Parenthood or the League of Women Voters.
Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384