Mary Jane (Bleich) Besch was born on February 19, 1930 in Titonka, Iowa, the daughter of Martin Albert and Anna Mary (Seiler) Bleich. She grew up in Garner, graduating from Garner High School in 1947. She attended Iowa State Teachers College (UNI), earning a two-year teaching certification and went on to teach sixth grade in West Bend, IA. Teachers weren't allowed to date back then (can you imagine?!?) and thus, not allowed to attend dances. Mary Jane and her roommate, another teacher, snuck out to a dance one Saturday night at the Whittemore Plantation - a hot spot back in the day - where she met her later-to-be-husband.
On June 14, 1950, Mary Jane was united in marriage to Lawrence J. Besch at St. Boniface Catholic Church in Garner. The couple lived on the Besch Family Farm in Whittemore, where they lived their entire married lives, 56 years together. Mary Jane was an active member of St. Michael's Catholic Parish during these years, where she was a member of the Rosary Society and Catholic Daughters of America. Once her children were old enough, Mary Jane returned to the work world where she became a Head Start teacher in Algona, one of the first in Iowa! She went on to be the Activity Director at Exceptional Opportunities in Burt, IA, and at the County Care Facility in Algona, IA.
Mary Jane enjoyed spending time with her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, gardening, golfing, reading, bird-watching, and playing cards & games. She also loved music, which she fueled in her entire family. All the children took piano lessons (although none play well today) because she insisted they learn to read music. All went on to play a musical instrument in band in high school, and several still play guitar today. The Besch sing-a-longs are a long-standing tradition in the family, now enjoyed by four generations. She and Lawrence were a wiz on the dance floor! Mary Jane could often be seen dancing around her living room and kitchen to some music (sometimes her own singing!). Lawrence Welk on Saturday nights was a fond, favorite time for the family.
One of Mary Jane's delights was socializing with friends and neighbors. The Crawfish Bottom Gang became family, and oh the fun and shenanigans reported through the years! Mary Jane and the Gang were not above breaking into someone's home and short-sheeting their bed on anniversaries. After Lawrence passed in 2006, Mary Jane eventually moved to Algona where she was a member of St. Cecelia's Catholic Church. Once diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2010, Mary Jane lived in Bickford Cottage Assisted Living in Iowa City, and had a short stay at Bickford Memory Unit in Cedar Rapids before moving to West Ridge Nursing Home in Cedar Rapids. Mary Jane's family extends heartfelt thanks to all the staff and care-givers at both Bickford and West Ridge for their wonderful care of Mary Jane - you are the heroes! Particularly telling were these priceless health care workers relaying how they loved Mary Jane's big, warm smile and her bright, delightful personality. Some things, Alzheimer's can't steal!
Mary Jane died December 5, 2020, at the West Ridge Care Center. She was 90.
She is survived by her children, Patricia and Jon Thompson of Port Isabel, Texas; David and Kris Besch of Sri Lanka; Stephen and Peggy Besch of Huron, South Dakota; Ruth Flores of Cedar Rapids, Iowa; JoAnn and Chris Goerdt of Iowa City, Iowa; 14 grandchildren; 12 great-grandchildren; brother Monsignor Russell. M Bleich of Dubuque, IA, and numerous nieces and nephews.
Mary Jane was preceded in death by her husband, Lawrence; parents, Martin and Anna Bleich; brother and sister-in-law, Vincent and Margaret Seiler, and her sister and brother-in-law, Cathy and Eric Bartleson.