Mary Lou died on Dec. 9, 2019, at Oakwood Village nursing unit, from Alzheimer’s dementia. She was born on Feb. 6, 1938, in Hammond, Indiana. Both of her parents were from Wisconsin. Dolores Hogie Birkett was born and raised on a farm south of Stoughton, where Hogie road meets Route 138.
The Hogies were Norwegian, which explains Mary Lou’s lifelong fascination with all things Norwegian. Lou Birkett was from Hazel Green. Two years after Mary Lou was born her father coached the Hammond Tech basketball team to its first and only state championship — the city named a street after him! Lou died at age 52 while Mary Lou was away at college. Mary Lou and Ted honored him by endowing scholarships at his alma mater, University of Wisconsin -Platteville.
Mary Lou attended Indiana University, first at a branch near Hammond then in Bloomington where she received Bachelors and Masters degrees in education and was admitted to the honorary society for educators. She remembered how her sorority sisters softened the trauma of her father’s death when she returned to Bloomington to finish her degrees. She taught elementary grades in Indiana, California, and for 15 years at Lomond School in Shaker Heights, Ohio. At Lomond, she received a “Master Teacher” award from the Jennings Foundation.
Mary Lou’s mother retired to her home town of Stoughton, and it was while flying back from a trip to visit her that Mary Lou met her future husband Ted. “A marriage made in heaven.” They married twice on July 4, 1980; one ceremony at Covenant Lutheran Church in Stoughton, and one at the Gates of Heaven Synagogue in Madison. Sadly, her mother died five months before the wedding.
In Madison, Mary Lou, ever the educator, began by teaching English to Hmong immigrants in Stoughton, and Life Skills to adults at the Madison Area Technical College. She returned to school and earned an MS in Counseling Education from the University of Wisconsin. Her thesis topic was on childhood obesity. She said that studying for that degree not only equipped her for her work in Madison’s schools, it also gave her insights into some of the features of a blended family she formed with Ted and his two sons. She served as counselor in three elementary schools in Madison before retiring for health reasons.
Mary Lou showed remarkable courage and resilience when confronted with various stresses: losing her parents at two critical times in her life, ending her first marriage, leaving her job and friends to move to Madison, and undergoing several major surgeries, including clipping of a brain aneurysm. She remained strong to the very end.
Mary Lou was a beautiful woman in personal appearance and dress, and her sense of simple elegance extended to her gardens and home. She also had a beautiful attitude toward people. Mary Lou instinctively felt love for all children; her step-sons were the lucky recipients of that love. She was also magnanimous in empathy and sympathy for most adults, even those reviled by others. She lived the motto “find the good and praise it.”
Although a loyal Lutheran and member of her church in Stoughton, Mary Lou fit actively into Ted’s Jewish household, family and synagogue. She gave life and meaning to the term “open-minded.”
Mary Lou’s interests were far-reaching. She was a voracious reader, and accumulated books and articles on topics as diverse as cats, pioneers, Wisconsin farms, Shakers, Norway and genealogy. Her favorite book was “The Land Remembers” by Ben Logan. Every spring, she and Ted drove to Bloomington to attend IU’s Mini-University adult education week. Her favorite activities included gardening and reading at home, and biking and boating in Wisconsin and Sanibel Island, Florida.
Mary Lou is survived by her husband Ted, her step-sons David (Susan), Michael (Nancy), their sons Benjamin, Ari, Noah, and Elijah, and many cousins and loyal friends. She was preceded in death by her parents, her aunts and uncles, and her beloved cat Cinnamon.
Her family are grateful for the excellent care Mary Lou received during the last 18 months of her life from Dr. Melissa Dattalo and the staff of Oakwood Village and Agrace Hospice.
A celebration of Mary Lou’s life is planned for the spring. Details will follow.
Cress Funeral & Cremation Service
3610 Speedway Road Madison
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