In Memoriam – May 2020

O’Neil’s hard work, dedication transformed MSS Gordon “Gene” O’Neil is remembered for his years of leadership with what is now […]

O’Neil’s hard work, dedication transformed MSS

Gordon “Gene” O’Neil is remembered for his years of leadership with what is now MSS. O’Neil, 90, died in April. He was 90 years old and lived in Minneapolis. 

O’Neil grew up in Faribault and went on to St. Thomas College (now University of St. Thomas). He served in the Navy during the Korean War. 

He began his long career in disability services in 1972, with United Cerebral Palsy of Greater St. Paul. He guided what became Midwest Special Service and later MSS, as it grew from a small agency on St. Paul’s east Side to a regional organization providing needed services for people with disabilities throughout the Twin Cities metro area. 

Gordon “Gene” O’Neil

O’Neil was well-known for his years of leadership and activism, testifying at the state capitol and working with other disability community leaders to improve the lives of Minnesotans with disabilities. One strong focus for him was meaningful employment for people with disabilities. He retired in 2000 and spent his remaining years actively volunteering for his church and Loaves and Fishes. He also enjoyed his family and is remembered for having a strong Catholic faith, a penchant for jokes and a positive outlook on life. 

A tribute posted by MSS stated, “Gene was forever an optimist who always saw the good side of people. He loved to tell stories, especially of his days in the Navy. Gene totally enjoyed spending time with the people served in the programs and it was not unusual to find someone from the old shop program sitting in his office trading laughs. He had a strong sense of humor, and kept a book of jokes in the credenza behind his office chair … He loved a good party, a good polka band and a hearty toast to love and good health. Gene valued loyalty, hard work, honesty and generosity and modeled those qualities in both his private and professional life. He was known as a man of strong convictions, occasionally stubborn, but who was also respectful of the opinions of others.” 

O’Neil is survived by his five children and their families, and other family members. Services have been held. Memorials are preferred to MSS. 

Ziemer was committed to helping her many clients

Lorraine Ziemer drew on her own working life with disabilities to help others find and retain employment. Ziemer died in April. She was 79 and lived in Faribault. 

Born in the small southern Minnesota town of Dunnell, Ziemer earned degrees from Southwest Minnesota State and Mankato State University (now Minnesota State Mankato). She worked as a rehabilitation counselor for the state for 31 years. 

Lorraine Ziemer

Ziemer had used a wheelchair since a young age and drew on her own life experiences to encourage her clients. One 1984 state newsletter describes how she worked with a client to develop a shopping service for people with disabilities at the Ridgedale Dayton’s Department store. Her client at the time described Ziemer as ‘the prime motivator and my biggest booster.” In the newsletter, Ziemer emphasized the need for the service, not just for the jobs it provided but to make people with disabilities more visible in the greater community. 

Her obituary describes Ziemer as being like a second mother to her nephews as they grew up, as she enjoyed attending their school events. She was also a longtime volunteer for many nonprofits. 

Ziemer is survived by her nephews and their families. A celebration of life will be held at a later date. 

Schoenboem Clymer led as volunteer

Virginia Hymans Schoenbohm Clymer was a faithful supporter of Courage Center, now Allina’s Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Center. She also had a long career in special education. Clymer died in March. She was 96 and lived in St. Louis Park. 

She was a native of Hull, Iowa and attended Central College in Pella, Iowa. She earned a B.A. degree from the University of Iowa and then did graduate work there and in Colorado and Minnesota. 

Virginia Hymans Schoenbohm Clymer

Clymer taught special education at the elementary and junior high school levels, first in north central Iowa. In Minnesota she taught in university child psychiatry and was a speech therapist and coordinator in the Robbinsdale Area Schools for many years. In 1986 she retired from her 32-year career in special education. 

Her first marriage, in 1954,was to Wilko Schoenbohm, founder of Courage Center. She was a longtime Courage Center and Camp Courage volunteer, serving on boards there and as part of its foundation leadership. 

After Wilko Schoenbohm’s death she married Wayne Clymer, a former Methodist Bishop. He also preceded her in death. 

Clymer was an active church and community volunteer. She is survived by children and step-children, and their families. She donated her body to the University of Minnesota Anatomy Bequest Program. A memorial service is planned for a later date. 

Henslin designed medical facilities

Rodney “Rod” Lowell Henslin’s medical facilities reflect unique and accessible design. Henlsin died in April. He was 95 and most recently lived in Eden Prairie. 

Henslin grew up in St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood in the shadow of the Cathedral of St. Paul. He attended Mechanic Arts High School. He met Lorraine de Louismet at age 15, and they were married during a two week leave in his service as a Navy Pilot. They were married for 74 years before her death in 2017. 

Rodney Lowell Henslin

He was a registered architect in 13 states and had an impressive career designing medical facilities. He pioneered the circular hospital design at Regions Hospital, and designed major medical centers including Mayo, Massachusetts General, Beth Israel Medical Center, Mary Hitchcock Hospital, Health Partners Clinics and numerous Shriners’ burn units and medical centers for children with disabilities. 

He enjoyed building furniture as a hobby. 

Henslin is survived by his three daughters and their families. There will be a private interment at Fort Snelling National Cemetery, with a celebration of life at a later date. 

Anderson was district court judge

Steven A. Anderson was someone who worked hard and didn’t seek recognition. Anderson died in April after a short battle with COVID-19. He was 65 and lived in Mille Lacs County. 

Born with one arm, Anderson grew up in Minneapolis. His family noted that he never viewed this as a disability, but as an opportunity to figure out a new way of doing something. It never stopped him from doing anything. 

Steven A. Anderson

Anderson graduated at the top of his class from Patrick Henry High School in 1972, where he attained the status of Eagle Scout, was a trumpet player, and was a letter winner in football and track. He was also a graduate of the University of Minnesota and its law school. 

He worked as an attorney in Princeton and served as city attorney for Princeton, Milaca, and other surrounding communities. 

In 2006, then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed Anderson to a district court judgeship in the Seventh Judicial District of Minnesota. 

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