Mary Baldwin Mulvihill, a farmer at heart who taught hundreds of children to read, died April 26 at 74.
She grew up on a farm outside Little Sioux, on Iowa’s western edge, with a mother who had barely scraped through the Great Depression and father who belly-laughed through life.
Her grandparents supplied her pony, Snowball, and other horses. She rode in parades around Harrison County and on the paths of the Loess Hills. It was a childhood where work came before play, but there was plenty of both.
Maggie, as she was known there, was an expert at weeding soybean fields and at canoeing the lake on the farm. She made a sour cream chocolate cake every Saturday for that night’s visiting. In choir at West Harrison High School, she was an alto who loved to harmonize. In band, she was so immersed in French horn that she clapped on the up beats for the rest of her life. She won her school’s Betty Crocker award, as she was innately practical even by Midwestern standards.
At Iowa State University, Mary met Mike Mulvihill. They were married from their student days until he died 49 years later, in 2016. She loved him so much that she watched golf on TV - even after he died.
Mary finished her bachelor’s degree at Olivet Nazarene College in Bourbonnais, Ill., then spent most of her adult life on the suburban eastern tip of Iowa. She was on the first faculties of both Riverdale and Riverdale Heights elementary schools and taught full-time in the Pleasant Valley district for 34 years and substituted for another 12.
Just over 5 feet tall, Mrs. M. was stern and unflappable - a teacher students didn’t even try to test, and one who didn’t care about bulletin boards or crafts.
Mid-career, she earned a master’s degree from Drake University and became driven by research and a mission to teach reading through writing. Her work earned state and county awards. For nine years, she also taught writing to teachers at St. Ambrose University.
With Mike on the road for work, she raised their son and had supernatural patience with them both.
Mary served stints on the city council in Riverdale, the LeClaire Ambulance Board, the PTA, the Pleasant Valley Education Association and the Pleasant Valley Band Boosters, often serving as secretary for organizations.
She sewed for herself and her granddaughters - and many capes for many preschoolers - but always demurred at the suggestion that she go into business. Much of her wardrobe was autumnal brown, orange and gold, though spring was her favorite season.
She was an admirer of the American pioneers, including her ancestors. Like her vision of them, she was anti-frivolous, scowling at the mere mention of unnecessary things such as snow, tattoos, soap operas, coffee shops and the perm Mike had in the 80s.
But she wasn’t too judgmental to be a trusted friend to many.
In retirement, Mary traveled to Europe repeatedly with friends, and once to her ancestral Czech with a contingent of cousins. She chaperoned teenagers on multiple trips to Washington, D.C., and one to Australia.
She beat breast cancer twice but succumbed to myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood cancer.
Mary moved in her final months to Haddonfield, N.J., to be near her son, Geoff, his wife, Caroline Yount, and their daughters Sophie and Katie. She was happy there but found all the trees out her window made her long for the open prairie.
Memorial donations can be made to the Pleasant Valley Educational Foundation to establish the Mary Mulvihill Scholarship, care of Beth Marsoun, 525 Belmont Road, Bettendorf, IA 52722.
Remembrances are scheduled for June 24 at noon at Riverdale City Hall, 110 Manor Drive in Riverdale and June 26 at noon at the Mondamin Community Center, 200 Maple St, Mondamin.