Rose-Mary Utne was a woman of many talents and interests. She was also tenacious.
“She was a tough old [Iron] Ranger,” said her son Seth Griak.
Utne, who grew up in northern Minnesota, was a teacher and coach, politician and artist.
“She was pretty gifted at a lot of things,” Griak said. “She was a painter, singer and writer. She was very involved in community theater. She had roles in musicals and she played the piano.”
Utne died of congestive heart failure at her Edina home on June 10. She was 93.
Utne was born to Ralph and Bett Brandon on May 20, 1927, in Calumet, a small mining community on Minnesota’s Iron Range. While she was growing up, the family lived in several communities as her father’s mining job moved around the Range.
Her father was superintendent of the Hill Annex Mine, and the family lived in Nashwauk, Keewatin, Biwabik and Hibbing, Griak said.
She graduated from Hibbing High School, the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and the University of Minnesota Duluth in 1950. While at UMD, she met and married Roy Griak.
The couple settled in St. Louis Park, where both got teaching jobs. While teaching in St. Louis Park, she started the high school’s girls track and field program in 1973.
Former Minnesota State High School League associate director Dorothy McIntyre wrote in an e-mail, “In the 1970s, one strong pioneer coach could make all the difference to her high school girls and beyond. Rose-Mary was the spark and driving force that created the first track and field program for girls at St. Louis Park High School. Her efforts would open doors and become part of a movement that would change the face of the world.”
Another son, Jason Griak, said, “A month ago she called as she was watching track and field on TV to marvel at their blind exchanges [relay team members passing the baton during races without looking at each other]. The most beautiful thing she has seen. She said her efforts when starting the woman’s program at St. Louis Park were not as successful with their blind exchanges.”
In 1971, she was part of another historic moment when she was the first woman elected to the St. Louis Park City Council. She served for eight years.
“Prior to the City Council,” Seth Griak said, “her introduction to politics was as president of the St. Louis Park League of Women Voters.”
Rose-Mary and Roy Griak were divorced after 27 years of marriage. Rose-Mary eventually married Roy Utne.
They lived in Edina, where she served on the Edina Zoning Board of Appeals for 27 years.
“She always wanted to stay active,” said son Seth. “She took up horseback riding at 65. She had a horse when she was younger. She and Roy had a farm in Balsam Lake, Wis., and they decided to board some horses. She fell off a horse and broke a vertebrae.”
Utne didn’t let the accident slow her down.
“She was tough as nails,” said Jason Griak. “Her zest for life was unmatched. She traveled by herself to the Covered Wagon Ranch in Montana two years ago for another horseback adventure ride, much to my concern. But she was the most determined person I have ever come across.”
In addition to her son Seth, who lives in Excelsior, and son Jason, who lives in Minneapolis, Utne is survived by three grandchildren, a great-grandchild, and Roy Utne’s three children, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Utne died in 2013. They were married 35 years.
A celebration of life will be held at a later date.
Joel Rippel • 612-673-4719