In loving memory

Mary Jo Thorsheim, Aug. 27, 1937 – Sept. 15, 2023

Mary Jo Thorsheim

Photo: Lori Ann Reinhall
Mary Jo Thorsheim proudly stands in front of a selection of paintings from Bergen and western Norway at her Norway Art gallery at Norway House in Minneapolis.

It is with great sadness that The Norwegian American shares news of the loss of our beloved colleague and friend Mary Jo Thorsheim. A recognized specialist in Norwegian art, Mary Jo was a frequent columnist and enthusiastic supporter of our newspaper, and her contributions cannot be underestimated. She was a inspiration to all who worked with her.

Her wonderful life is remembered in the words of her nephew Kris Thorsheim:

Dr. Mary Jo Thorsheim, 86, of Minneapolis passed away Sept. 15 at Seasons Hospice in Rochester, Minn. She was born in Minneapolis on Aug. 27, 1937, to Joseph and Gladys Thorsheim. In 1941, she excitedly welcomed a brother, Howard. Mary Jo grew up in Minneapolis’ Bryn Mawr neighborhood and formed many connections and friendships that would become lifelong. Always interested in people and helping others, Mary Jo sought education at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., and the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and earned advanced degrees in occupational therapy and teaching. She was instrumental in the development of the occupational therapy  program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where she lived and worked earlier in life.

Mary Jo returned to live in Minneapolis, where she loved Theodore Wirth Park, the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden, and the many fine museums and cultural institutions.

Strongly interested in her heritage, she traveled to Norway many times, strengthening family connections and continuing to help others network and sustain relationships.

Mary Jo gave special attention to her nephews in Northfield, attending band concerts, birthdays, and special occasions. She often brought gifts for all, not just the “birthday boy.”

Once grandnephews were born, Mary Jo had the idea to write a children’s book for them, so she did! Additionally, Mary Jo researched the history of the building and fellow residents of 2615 Park Avenue in Minneapolis, and she wrote a book about that as well.

Quick in wit, with a keen sense of humor, Mary Jo enjoyed talking with everyone and finding things in common between those she met. She chose to not drive, instead making use of buses and cabs regularly and knew many of the drivers by name and could tell you about their families.

After retirement from teaching and occupational therapy work, she founded Norway Art in Minneapolis in 1979, and for the rest of her life, she enjoyed researching, acquiring, and selling original Scandinavian art and prints worldwide. Not only was this a business, it was a way for Mary Jo to continue social networking and learning, which she did with finesse.

Norway Art

Photo: Mary Jo Thorsheim
Mary Jo Thorsheim’s Norway Art gallery at Norway House was a “doorway to Norway.” Norway House will not be the same without her cheerful smile to greet all who came to visit there.

Above all, faith and family were the center of Mary Jo’s life, and she showed this in many ways, including providing care and devotion to several family members at the end of their lives.

Preceded in death by her parents and brother, Mary Jo is survived by her nephews and many relatives in the United States and Norway, as well as many friends she treated as an extended family.

Mary Jo was a force; she was independent, loving, generous, and she will be dearly missed.

A celebration of life was held at Lake of the Isles chapel in Minneapolis on Sept. 25. Donations may be made in her memory to the organization or charity of your choice.

Editor-in-chief Lori Ann Reinhall shares her memories of Mary Jo:

What can I say? There are some people who are special, who have an important place on your life. For me, Mary Jo Thorsheim was one of them.

I first met Mary Jo about six years ago on my very first visit to Norway House. As an art lover, I wanted to see her Norway Art gallery, and when I arrived there, she welcomed me enthusiastically. At that time, I was still working as assistant editor for The Norwegian American and was interested in writing an article about Norwegian art in North America. I soon realized that I had come to the right place.

The Norway Art gallery at Norway House was a bit of a wonderland, filled with treasures to study and enjoy. Having close connections to Bergen, Norway, I was first drawn to a wall filled with motifs from western Norway, the area where Mary Jo had her ancestral ties. We talked about the paintings and her background for several hours, and that was the beginning of a close personal collaboration and a close friendship.

This first meeting resulted in an article I wrote to reintroduce Mary Jo to the readers of The Norwegian American. Mary Jo had been a supporter for years, but I wanted to offer my own perspective. Later, I published a version of the article on the writers’ blog medium.com that remains one of my most popular posts. It was a start of a beautiful thing.

Mary Jo Thorsheim

Photo courtesy of Lori Ann Reinhall
Editor-in-chief Lori Ann Reinhall and Mary Jo Thorsheim posed together after a presentation on The Norwegian American newspaper that Mary Jo arranged at the Mindekirken Tuesday Open House program.

From then on, Mary Jo and I corresponded via email and talked on the phone on a regular basis. We not only talked about art, but Mary Jo also offered valuable insights into the Norwegian-American community and her Midwest heritage. Many a story idea emerged from those conversations, and, after I took over as editor-in-chief, Mary Jo’s Norway Art columns began to appear in The Norwegian American.

What always impressed me about Mary Jo was her insatiable curiosity for life and her strong commitment to her work. As such, she became an important role model for me. After all, I was starting out as editor-in-chief of a newspaper at age 60 and at times wondered if it really made any sense. But getting to know Mary Jo helped me realize that age doesn’t matter if you are committed to your calling. She, too, had started a second career after retirement, and she encouraged me in my new profession.

One of my fondest memories with Mary Jo was a presentation she arranged for me at the Mindekirken Tuesday Open House program. It opened doors and led to many more professional connections and friendships.

Mary Jo was a very kind and loving soul. Whenever I would come to Minneapolis, she would invite me to lunch, where we not only shared our work experiences but many moments of laughter as well. Sharp as a tack, she also had a great sense of humor with Norwegian-American flavor. I will miss those cherished moments.

Mary Jo never stopped giving. Over the years, I witnessed the many contributions she made to Norway House and Mindekirken. She provided unique programming and valuable support to her colleagues on Norway Block, driven by her kind and generous spirit and great love for Norway and the Norwegian-American community. I must also add that she was a very proud Minnesotan. I learned so much from her.

What can I say? Mary Jo Thorsheim was an exemplary human being. Her passing is a great loss for all of us. I will miss her dearly as I carry on in her spirit.

This article originally appeared in the October 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Lori Ann Reinhall

Lori Ann Reinhall, editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American, is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.