Mary Grefe

Nov. 7, 1922 — May 10, 2018

Mary Arlene Grefe was born on Nov. 7, 1922, in Algona, to Arthur and Rena (Ricker) Cruikshank. Her early years were spent on the family farm in Kossuth County where she attended country school across the road from her home where it was known as the “Cruikshank School.” She entered Algona High School at the age of 12 and entered Morningside College as a 16-year-old freshman. While in college, she majored in speech, drama and American History. She met Rolland Grefe at Morningside College and the two married on June 12, 1943.

Mary taught high school in Forest City, Spirit Lake, and after moving to Des Moines, Roosevelt High School. When their son, Roger, was born in 1950, she left the teaching field and instead ran for the Des Moines Board of Education on which she served for 12 years, twice as President. Her love of teaching led her to the American Institute of Business College where she taught for five years.

She then went on to serve as Executive Director of the YWCA, president of the Metro Des Moines League of Women Voters, president of the American Association of University Women (AAUW), chairperson for the Iowa Peace Institute, and leader of many other local boards and associations. As chair of the National Adult Education Council, she traveled to various states on behalf of President Ford who had appointed her to the State Department of Adult Education. She traveled to Japan, Denmark, Kenya, and as a guest of the Chinese government to China as an official government delegate to international conferences.

A member of Westminster Presbyterian Church for more than 60 years, she was an ordained elder, and taught several Bible classes during her membership. Mary was a warrior against injustice. A strong supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment, she was known for her aggressive action on behalf of any discrimination, especially that of women or children.  She was awarded five honorary doctorates and was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 1980.

Even with these achievements, Mary will be remembered most for her lively stories, laughter, and endless love for her family, friends, and community. She was a role model and will be remembered for many generations to come.

Mary passed away on May 10, 2018.

Her beloved husband, Rollie; her sister, Evelyn Cruikshank McNeill; her parents, Rena and Arthur Cruikshank; and many great friends preceded her in death.

She is survived by her son, Roger (Barbara); two grandchildren, Brian (Leslie) and Lisa (Abby); three great-grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.

The family wishes to express their gratitude for the end of life care provided by Glen Oaks Alzheimer’s Special Care Center and St. Croix Hospice. 

Services were held on Monday, May 14, 2018, at 11 a.m., at Westminster Presbyterian, 4114 Allison Ave, Des Moines. A visitation will be held one hour before the service at the church. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be directed to Westminster Presbyterian Church, Hope Ministries, and the Young Women’s Resource Center. Online condolences are welcome at

Arrangements by Iles Dunn’s Chapel.


Kossuth County Advance

14 E. Nebraska St.

Algona, IA 50511  

Phone: (515) 295-3535

Fax: (515) 295-7217

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