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Mary Rieder was an economics professor who, in straying from the halls of academia into politics, kept DFL Party hopes alive in southeastern Minnesota by running for Congress in 1996 and 2000.

Though she lost twice to incumbent First District Rep. Gil Gutnecht, she made her mark as one of only a few Minnesota woman to run for Congress in those years. Her strong campaigns helped maintain "the viability of the Democratic Party down here and paved the way for Tim Walz to win in 2006," said Tim Penny, who held the First District seat before Gutnecht as a Democrat.

Rieder, 68, who taught and was a department chair and administrator at Winona State University before retiring in 2002, died of ovarian cancer Tuesday in her Eyota, Minn., home.

"She had a very ambitious campaign and got a lot of people involved," Penny said. Rieder was his intern for several months and her fiscal expertise was very helpful on budget issues, he said. "She was genuine and said what she thought," Penny said.

Rieder taught and was a leader for about 30 years at Winona State. She was a vivacious teacher who got great student reviews, said former President Darrell Krueger.

"She had a wonderful personality and great insights into people. She worked enthusiastically to make things better. She cared deeply about students," he said by telephone from Utah.

Rieder ran the school's Rochester campus for a while and later was acting library dean and an academic associate vice president, Krueger said.

She also was a longtime member of the State Council of Economic Advisers, which provides fiscal data for state leaders.

Her daughter, Maurya Rieder of Sydney, Australia, said the two congressional campaigns underscored her mother's belief that "if you put your mind to it you can go after anything. You can have a family and career, but not all at the same time."

"My mom could get information out of anybody," Rieder said. She said her cousin told her, "Your mom always asked hard questions. I didn't like it at the time, but I've come to appreciate it." Rieder said her mother always found something in common with people, which led to good conversations.

Blois Olson managed Rieder's 1996 campaign, which she lost by an about 52 to 48 percent margin, he said. "She worked hard to understand [politics] and be smart on the issues," Olson said. "She was more interested in policy than politics. But she understood she had to figure in politics to impact policy."

Olson said he learned from Rieder "that no matter how important TV is and image and media, authenticity is one of the most valuable political assets anybody brings to a race."

Besides Maurya, Rieder is survived by her husband, Ed; two others daughters, Killian of Minneapolis and Jocelyn of Edina; a son, Thaddeus of Benton Harbor, Mich.; a sister, Ann Hesse, of Madison, Wis., and five grandchildren.

Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at St. Aloysius Catholic Church in Elba, Minn., with visitation one hour beforehand.