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Marge Mittelstadt: Classic, exceptional lady

Marge Mittelstadt

Whether she was patching a skinned knee, sorting out a playground scuffle or handling a delicate matter with parents, Marge Mittelstadt did it with the tenderness of a mom.

Mittelstadt, longtime secretary at River Falls' Greenwood Elementary School, died of an apparent heart attack Sunday at her West Cedar Street home. She was 75.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 15, at First Congregational Church where she was a member. Visitation will begin at noon and continue until the service starts.

Pat McCardle, former Greenwood Elementary principal, worked side-by-side with Mittelstadt for seven years until her formal retirement a decade ago.

"There are a few people all of us encounter in life that are truly exceptional, memories of whom spark fondness and respect. Marge was one of those," said McCardle. "She was tireless and unselfish -- so totally dedicated to her profession."

McCardle corresponded with his successor, Principal Nate Schurman, Monday morning after learning of Mittelstadt's death.

"Long before you or I were an institution at Greenwood, there was Marge. Like Magic Johnson is to basketball, Marge was to being a school secretary. She was just an exceptional lady," he told Schurman.

Mittelstadt joined Greenwood's staff as a kindergarten aide in 1972. She became the secretary the next year, a job she held until 2000.

She continued to work part-time as a secretarial substitute and teacher's aide until last year.

She remained active as a school volunteer and occasional part-time employee, even so recent as three weeks ago, selling tickets during the Northern Badger Wrestling Invitational.

The Rev. Del Permann, Mittelstadt's pastor for years, characterized her as "just a fine, fine lady. She was a principled woman who knew what she believed and stood up for what she believed."

Mittelstadt, who lost her husband Jerry more than two decades ago and had suffered various health problems, continued to lead an active life, Permann said.

Only a year ago, she took part in a mission trip to Biloxi, Miss., to assist rebuilding efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Six months ago, she participated in a musical with one of her grandchildren.

Mittelstadt's picture appeared in the Journal several times with fellow organizers of First Congregational's annual "Country Fair" fundraiser. And Permann said she didn't just volunteer, she jumped in with passion and saw projects through to completion.

McCardle said Mittelstadt had a "very present, very large personality" at Greenwood School. She was frequently the first adult to greet children or parents at the school each day.

Mittelstadt did "a lot of nursing, whether with Band-Aids or hugs, and a lot of nurturing to a lot of children."

Many times, McCardle would later hear from a new parent or family that he introduced to the River Falls School District that it was the "friendliness or warmth of your secretary" that really made it special.

And in addition to raising three children of her own, Marge was also a foster parent to many kids over the years.

She was a good one for practical jokes, said Permann -- whether perpetrator or the recipient -- she loved it.

Mittelstadt had a certain mischievous streak that made her so likeable and genuine.

Permann recalled a story he heard about Marge, following the death of her husband, Jerry, in the 1980s. The family wished for his cremated remains to be buried near a favorite bush -- which just happened to be located near a public school.

Permission was sought but Mittelstadt was told, "You can't do that," Permann recounted.

Marge's reply was something to the effect -- "Well, I'm very clumsy. When I'm walking by that hole I might just stumble," he recalled.

Another old Journal photo captured Mittelstadt celebrating with fellow survivors during an American Cancer Society "Relay for Life" fundraiser in River Falls some years back. She knew that life was precious.

"She said, 'I'm going to go until I can go no more. Then I'll be quiet,'" Permann said. "That played out well. Every day was a blessing for her."

Click here for Marge Mittelstadt's obituary:

Steve Dzubay

Steve Dzubay has been publisher at the River Falls Journal and Hudson Star Observer from 1995-2016. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. He previously worked as a reporter-photographer at small daily newspapers in Minnesota and is past editor of the Pierce County Herald and River Falls Journal.