Mary Ellen Otremba, local legislator, dies at 63
Mary Ellen Otremba, a popular and soft-spoken state legislator who represented areas of central and west-central Minnesota for 13 years, died Wednesday.
Otremba, 63, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, according to the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library. She also battled Alzheimer’s disease.
Funeral services were held Monday at St. Mary of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Long Prairie.
Otremba, a Democrat, was known for working across party lines for Greater Minnesota issues, as evidenced by Republicans praising her service in the hours after her death.
In 2010, Otremba announced she wouldn’t seek an eighth term. She issued a statement saying it had been “an incredible privilege” to serve the citizens of District 11B in the Minnesota House.
“There is no greater honor in a democracy than to be selected by one’s fellow citizens to represent them in the halls of government,” Otremba said in her statement. “I will always be grateful for the years I’ve had to serve in our beautiful Capitol, working to enhance the quality of life for all Minnesotans.”
She said her father “brought me to my first precinct caucus. Since that day, I’ve never stopped working to shine a light on the wonderful things than make Greater Minnesota’s quality of life so special.”
After Otremba retired, Republican Mary Franson of Alexandria defeated DFL-endorsed candidate Amy Hunter in Otremba’s district in the 2010 election.
“My heart mourns for Mary Ellen and the family she leaves behind,” Franson said. “Mary Ellen was a dedicated public servant who represented the heart and soul of our community well.”
Another Republican also praised Otremba.
“Representative Otremba was widely respected in the Legislature and known for her passion for Todd County residents,” said Representative Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls. “Party politics didn’t play into her thinking; instead, her integrity and strong desire to represent Todd County drove her legislation.”
Otremba was first elected in a November 1997 special election after the death of her husband, Representative Ken Otremba, two months earlier.
She chaired the House Agriculture, Rural Economies and Veterans Affairs Committee, and was a member of the Ways and Means Committee. She also served on a variety of committees dealing with agriculture, rural development, veterans affairs and health and human services.
She was an assistant House minority leader from 2001 to 2004.
Otremba graduated from Long Prairie High School and attended the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, where she received a degree in home and community service. She later attended St. Cloud State University, earning a master’s degree in child and family studies.
She worked as a nutritionist for the Todd County Department of Public Health from 1984 to 1989, as a teacher in the Freshwater Educational District from 1986 to 1989 and as a teacher at Eagle Valley High School in Clarissa from 1989 to 1997. She also taught family and consumer science at Swanville High School and was a substitute teacher there.
Forum News Service Reporter Don Davis contributed to this story.