Mary Jane Rice, 99, of Willmar, died Wednesday, July 17th at Compassionate Cottage in Willmar. Her funeral service will be at 2:00 pm, Tuesday, July 30th at Bethel Lutheran Church in Willmar. Visitation will be one hour prior at the church. Burial will be in Fairview Cemetery in Willmar. Memorials are preferred to Bethel Lutheran Church in Willmar. Arrangements are with Harvey Anderson Funeral Home in Willmar. www.hafh.org
Mary Jane was born to Agda and Guy Leasman in Hector, Minn., on August 29, 1919. She married John L. Rice on February 14, 1946, in Willmar, Minn. Together they raised two daughters and established themselves as prominent fixtures in the field of aviation.
Mary Jane's lifelong passion for flying began as a teenager. She earned her private pilot's license in 1940 and soon became one of the first women in the state of Minnesota to hold a commercial pilot's license. As a new pilot, Mary Jane was the only female member of the Hector Flying Club and a charter member of the Minnesota chapter of the Ninety-Nines (International Organization of Women Pilots).
In 1945, Mary Jane and John founded Willmar Air Service, Inc. Together they managed the airport and operated their business, with Mary Jane ultimately logging 63 years in the office. In 1964, Mary Jane's contributions to local aviation earned her the first "Mrs. Aviation" title from the Minnesota Aviation Trades Association. Later, Mary Jane was inducted into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame. She ultimately joined the ranks of Amelia Earhart and the Wright brothers with an induction into the International Forest of Friendship, a living memorial dedicated to the world history of aviation, in Atchison, Kansas.
Beyond her love of flying, Mary Jane was drawn to water. She spent countless hours combing the beaches of Sanibel Island, Florida, with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. At home, she cherished her time at Green Lake.
Mary Jane will be remembered for her pioneering nature, deep curiosity and keen interest in the world around her.
Mary Jane was preceded in death by her husband. She is survived by her daughters and their spouses, Janet and Bruce Jaeger, Laurie and Steve Schwarz; grandchildren and their spouses, Melissa and Ron Redetzke, Matt and Jacquie Jaeger, Justin Schwarz; great-grandchildren, Kate and Lauren Redetzke, Tobey and Joy Jaeger; and special friends Pat and Elaine Curry, Andrea and Dennis Pieske, and the late Barb Ellingboe.
Mary Jane's family extends a heartfelt thank you to the caregivers at Compassionate Cottage and the many friends who offered steady companionship during Mary Jane's final years.