Remembrances of time spent with a dear old friend

Published 9:38 am Sunday, November 17, 2013

Column: Art Is, by Bev Jackson Cotter

How does one say goodbye to a dear friend?

On Oct. 5 Mary Ann Dixen “joined the endless procession,” and her family and friends “lost the sun that shone o’er their pathway.” I’m not being facetious here. These words were used in the 1882 edition of the Freeborn County History book to explain death. Today’s version “she passed” just doesn’t describe the way I feel.

Bev Jackson Cotter

Bev Jackson Cotter

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I first met Mary Ann when she was serving on the Albert Lea Art Center board of directors in the mid-1980s. She was wise and witty and dependable and all of the good things that an organization requires of a board member. I remember her respect for artists and pride in her husband’s wood carving. I remember her generous donations (sometimes anonymously) whenever the need arose, and how strongly she believed in the arts as a necessary part of community life.

She was a fourth grade teacher in Albert Lea for 20 years and was instrumental in establishing the science fair here. One of her former students wrote that he remembered her as a warm and caring teacher who even took her class outside to show them a robin’s nest with babies and spoke so respectfully of nature. I did not know until recently that she was an “older than average” student when she received her education degree.

Rory Mattson, another retired teacher and artist, said that he had worked with Mary Ann at Ramsey School and Halverson Elementary School. He smiled as he said that she loved to play jokes and their nickname for her was Mad. Following her retirement she served on the school board for 10 years, a portion of that time as chairwoman. She helped with the Big Island Rendezvous and was awarded the Volunteer of the Year in 1997. She even served as the first female president of the Noon Kiwanis Club in Albert Lea.

She loved her weekly Bible study class (making sure it ended on time), was involved in the church women’s organization, attended senior luncheons and particularly enjoyed her birthday club.

In 2010, the Albert Lea Art Center asked her to ride on our July 3 parade float as our hometown hero, honoring all teachers. She was so pleased, and I’ll never forget the gathering at my home after the parade when artist Agnes Boss presented Mary Ann with her original portrait — two 87-year-young ladies enjoying the arts and their accomplishments.

In September 2001, Mary Ann and I flew to Egypt for a two-week tour and cruise on the Nile. It was shortly after Sept. 11 and when I asked her if she still wanted to go, she never hesitated. Her “yes” was quiet and firm. We had a grand time. We were in Cairo when she told me that she was 78 years old. To my then 62 years, that seemed awfully old.

She rode a camel with as much dignity as you can muster on one of those lumbering animals, and she oohed and ahhed at the incredible monuments, all the while taking wonderful photos. She fell as we were touring one of the temples, and later in a military hospital was wrapped like a mummy from neckline to waistline. Even then she carried her serious shoulder injury like a badge of courage and finished the trip with nary a complaint.

She will always be to me a symbol of gentle strength, humble pride and quiet joy. We will miss her terribly.


Bev Jackson Cotter is a member of the Albert Lea Art Center, 224 S. Broadway, where the Petersen/Froiland exhibit will be on display through Dec. 27. This year’s annual Festival of Trees will be in the 125-year-old Petran House, 226 W. Fountain St., Dec. 1-29.