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If you wanted a good children's book, or one about cooking, civil war history or religion, Ruth McKee could find it for you.

McKee, co-owner of the former Booksellers et. al. in St. Paul, died of cancer Dec. 20 at her Minneapolis home. She was 76.

McKee was determined to find your title. She often figured out the book a customer sought without even knowing the title or the author's name. Before computerized inventory systems, she had it all in her head.

"She loved books, finding a book for you or finding out about a book she hadn't heard of," said Steve Anderson of Hudson, Wis., a partner in Booksellers et. al.

Anderson said McKee was shy and brainy, but once you got to know her, she became outgoing.

"This attracted people to her," Anderson said. "She had three things going on at once in her mind, but was two steps ahead of everybody."

By around 1970, she had collected so many children's books for her kids that she started to sell them by mail order.

She also wrote "McKee's Price Guide to Children's Literature," a reference for book dealers for books that "will always be particularly collectible," said her daughter Ari McKee-Sexton of St. Paul.

McKee opened her first store, Dickens' Book and Curiosity, in St. Paul in 1972; it closed in 1974.

While working a few years in children's programming for KTCA-TV, she became a principal in the Dinky Town Antiquarian Bookstore, operating there until the late 1970s.

Next storefront: Harper McKee Bookseller in St. Paul's West Seventh neighborhood.

She joined forces with her daughter Ann McKee of Minneapolis and others to operate St. Paul's Booksellers et. al. from 1983 to 1993.

Daughter Ari said it was the biggest used-book store in the Twin Cities at the time. At the store, McKee created large religion/theology and cookbook sections, and worked hard to find titles for readers.

"She liked people and helping people," said her daughter.

McKee, a short-story writer, was proud of the support she received from author Kurt Vonnegut, who gave her the name of his agent after she sent him some of her work, her daughter said.

McKee was a student of history, especially English and Civil War history, and was an avid genealogist.

She was never able to verify through research her suspicion that she had substantial African-American ancestry. But recently she had taken a DNA test that indicated she was 9 percent sub-Sahara African. She was "pretty tickled" because she was "a huge civil rights supporter," said daughter Ari.

McKee graduated from Minneapolis' Marshall High School in 1948. She studied music and literature at the University of Minnesota.

Over the years, she lived in both St. Paul and Minneapolis.

After her last bookstore closed in the 1990s, she sold books on the Internet and occasionally performed book appraisals.

In addition to her daughters Ari and Ann, she is survived by another daughter, Lynn McKee of Minneapolis; her former husband, Fred McKee of Cannon Falls, and three grandchildren.

Services will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Lakewood Memorial Chapel, 3600 Hennepin Av., Minneapolis.