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Frances Callaghan spent her career advocating for children with special needs.

As one of the early members of the Minnesota Association for Children with Learning Disabilities, she lobbied for state and federal legislation that ensured special instruction for any student who needed it.

After raising four children, one who had difficulty learning in school, Callaghan went to college and earned a degree in special education from St. Cloud State University. She went on to teach special education in the Wayzata school district for 20 years.

“She never stopped the push for recognition for students with needs,” said former St. Cloud State professor Floyd Ayers.

Callaghan, of Edina, died on July 6. She was 91.

Ayers said Callaghan was instrumental in raising awareness about the need for special education.

“I’ve known her since the early 1960s,” said Ayers. “She was working at the Sister Kenny Institute on a school neurology project between Sister Kenny and the Minneapolis Public Schools.”

At the time, Callaghan was on the board of an organization called the Minnesota Association for the Brain Injured.

“I got to know Frances, and eventually I joined the board,” said Ayers. The group evolved into the Minnesota Association for Children with Learning Disabilities (MACLD). “Early on she was involved in organizing annual conventions pushing to help support and get recognition. In the early days, she was a volunteer at a summer camp at Lake Independence.”

Lobbying efforts by Callaghan and MACLD founders Donna Dee Slettehaugh and Gwen Martinson and other groups led to three pieces of federal legislation: the Children with Specific Learning Disabilities Act of 1969, the Education of the Handicapped Act of 1970 and the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975.

At the state level, Minnesota passed its first rules for special education in 1976. The state statute required all school districts “to insure that all children who are disabled and require specialized instruction to be provided the special education appropriate to their needs according to an individual education plan.”

St. Cloud State professor emeritus of special education Jerry Wellik said, “I first met Frances in 1971. There were not many college programs around back then that dealt with special education. Stan Knox had started the program at St. Cloud in 1962. … It was a brand-new field and the people at that time had a profound effect.”

Wellik said Callaghan “was always on top of things. She spent a lot of time finding out as much as she could. She was a doer and an activist. So many of the best teachers that came out of that program were parents who knew the issue from the inside.”

Callaghan’s passion and energy for the subject didn’t end after she retired from teaching.

“I do know that after she retired,” Ayers said, “she moved to Florida and continued to volunteer with children there.”

Callaghan, whose great-great-grandparents were among the first to settle in the Lake Minnetonka area in 1854, was born to Theodore and Edith Wright in 1929 in Minneapolis.

Callaghan is survived by son Larry Jack, daughter Linda Grand, four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

A service has been held.

Joel Rippel • 612-673-4719