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Mary Jeanne (Zanko) Olson

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Mary Jeanne (Zanko) Olson passed away on Sunday, October 24, 2021 at St. Mary’s Hospital in Duluth.

Mary was born on June 25, 1945, in Duluth, MN, the daughter of Jerome B. and Mary (Mendesh) Zanko.

She grew up in West Duluth, having attended Irving Elementary, West Junior High School, and Denfeld High School, graduating in 1963. Mary graduated from the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) with a B.S. in Social Sciences in 1967. She was a member of the Sigma Phi Kappa sorority.

Mary’s passions were teaching and learning. She started her career of being an educator at Washington Junior High School, followed by East High School, and Denfeld High School from which she retired in 2002. Her teaching expertise was in Government and American History. Mary received the Denfeld Service Award for her years of service and positive impact on the students she taught and mentored throughout her career.

For a period of time Mary left her teaching career to own and operate the “Cheese Wheel” in the Holiday Center in downtown Duluth, after which returning to her first love, teaching, at Duluth East and Denfeld.

After retirement, Mary stayed engaged in education and believed there was no age limit to learning, becoming involved with UMD’s University for Seniors program as a student and teacher. She taught classes such as “The Roaring Twenties” and took classes such as Opera, an art form she came to appreciate. She even became part of the curriculum committee where she served as the President to help reach more goals on lifelong learning.

Mary was also active with Junior League and the Duluth Library Board. Mary had friends from many different connections she’d made from teaching, the Cheese Wheel business, and membership at Northland Country Club. In retirement, Mary enjoyed going out to eat to support locally-owned businesses, walking on the Lakewalk, enjoying coffee with her friends, the “Caribou Crawlers,” and attending performances at the Duluth Playhouse. She also had fond memories of golfing, downhill skiing, and traveling. Her other volunteer activities included working the food area at Grandma’s Marathon (even having completed the half marathon herself) and going to local campaign rallies and phone banks. A political junkie, she could always be counted on to have a perspective on current events.

In July 1969, Mary wed James (Cub) Harold Olson of Duluth at Good Shepherd Catholic Church. In 1987, Mary and Cub welcomed their son Nathan and two years later daughter Elizabeth, both born in India. In 2007, Cub was diagnosed with brain cancer and Mary devoted herself to being primary caretaker until his passing. They enjoyed a wonderful 40 years of marriage and building a family together.

Mary was preceded in death by Cub, her sister Betty Zanko, and her parents Jerome B. and Mary Zanko.

Mary is survived by her son Nathan and daughter Elizabeth; brothers and sisters-in-law, Jerry and Carolyn Zanko; Tony and Pat Zanko; and Larry and Greta Zanko; and the rest of the Zanko family, including her nieces and nephews to whom she enjoyed being Auntie Mamie.

Mary will be greatly missed by her friends and family. She was bright, kind, generous, and opinionated. She had a wonderful sense of humor which helped her through hard times. CELEBRATION OF LIFE: 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 12, in the Northland Country Club, 3901 E. Superior St. Per Mary’s wishes, in lieu of flowers please make donations to Animal Allies Humane Society, Spring Point Project, or the National Brain Tumor Society in her memory.

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