Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 7, 2009
Betty Jane Conklin, age 81, died Friday morning at the Austin Medical Center from complications related to Parkinson’s disease.
Betty Conklin was born Betty Jane Kjensmo to Ole Kjensmo and Minda Thorson Kjensmo on July 8, 1928. When her mother was killed in a car accident in 1931, Betty was sent to live with an aunt and uncle, Edward and Josephine Thorson, and eight cousins on the farm on the prairie west of Brooten, Minn. In that home she spoke only Norwegian. She has more relatives in Norway than in the United States.
Betty and her husband, Dale Conklin, were known for their work as advocates for gays, lesbians and their families. They were honored by the Philanthrofund Foundation of Minnesota in 2001 for their work with families across the state. The Conklins were frequently called upon to speak at conferences and to the state legislature on behalf of gay and lesbian organizations.
She retired in 1990 from the Austin Public Schools system after 31 years as a teacher. During her career, she taught in a variety of settings including special education, kindergarten and first grade in the Elkton School District; second grade at Sumner School; and as the owner for five years of Conklin’s Nursery School, the first nationally-accredited nursery school in Austin. She began teaching in one-room rural schools in Kandiyohi County, with 30 children in all eight grades. She acknowledged that her biggest worry at that time was being able to start the wood stove in the mornings. She earned her degree from Winona State University and a fifth-year degree at Mankato State University.
In retirement, she and her husband traveled the U.S., Europe, Scandinavia, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Hawaii, Nepal and India. A lifelong music lover, her interests later expanded to baseball; she was a serious Twins fan. Her top priority continued to be St. Olaf Lutheran Church.
Mother to four children: Daniel (Liz) Waterloo, Iowa, Deb Pinger, Cincinnati, Ohio, Lori (Walker) Conklin, Kenyon, Minn., and Tim Conklin and Jiwan Bajracharya, Vancouver, B.C. Canada; and six grandchildren: Jeni (Doug) Conklin Taylor, Jeff Conklin, Andrea Walker, Ben Walker, Alex Keller and Cora Keller Zoan.
She was preceded in death by her parents; husband, Dale, in 2000; sisters Wahneta and June Lorraine Kjensmo; and brothers Stanley, Rodger and Charles Kjensmo.
Funeral services will be held on Monday June 8, 2009 at 1:30 p.m. at St. Olaf Lutheran Church with the Reverend Kristi Koppel officiating. Organist will be Neal Erickson. Visitation will be at Clasen-Jordan Mortuary on Sunday from 5 to 7 p.m. and at the church on Monday for one hour before the service. Violinist will be Susan Radloff.