Nature 19

Mary Ann Barsody

January 17, 1938 ~ July 23, 2019 (age 81)


Mary Ann Barsody was born January 17, 1938; the 7th child to Steve and Katie Barsody. She had 6 sisters: Barbara, Emma, Katherine, Virginia, Irene, Roseanne; and 3 brothers: Arnold, Steve, and Joe. 

Mary Ann was a pretty baby and was given lots of love. Developmental issues became apparent as she aged. She began to have epileptic seizures. When the local doctors could do nothing for her she was taken to the University of  Minnesota Hospital for treatment. She also had cerebral palsy. It was determined that the area of her brain causing the seizures could not be operated on. Her seizures could be controlled by medication. There was no such thing as health insurance to help with the costs. The medical bills were paid by selling off farm assets such as cattle and pigs. 

As she grew physically her mental age did not.The doctors recommended "The Colony for Epileptics" which was opened in Cambridge in 1925. Her mother and father resisted this option and continued to care for her at home. Mary Ann was a happy, mischievous, active child who required constant attention. She loved to be outside. She loved to be given rides on the milk cart around the farm yard. She loved to throw things and laugh. Her sister Katherine who was 7 years older became her playmate. Another sister Virginia was born 2 1/2 years after Mary.

Caring for a new born as well as a developmental daughter was hard on her mother. There were no programs to help in those days. The farm house had electricity but did not have water in the house. All water was brought to the house in milk cans and was heated on the stove for hot water. During her time at home she became closer to her dad as he would rock her to sleep each night. It took a visit from the parish priest, Father Trobec, to convince her mother that Cambridge would be the best option for her care.

At the age of 4 almost 5 she went to live at Cambridge. The family toured the facilities which were new at the time. Mary Ann was house in the children's cottage. She was a pretty little girl and the center of attention. An older girl Jamella Zaph became her advocate and played with her just as her sister Katherine had done at home. Thus began many visits to Cambridge on Sunday afternoons. Visiting hours were from 2-5. She was always happy to see family and immediately would take her dad's hand and head outside for the car. The family always took her for a ride to the park. There she could play ball and run after her sisters pulling the sashes of their dresses if she got close. Everyone always dressed in their Sunday best. Home made treats were always brought to these outings. She knew they were in the car and would not settle down until her mother gave her one. Her friend Jamella would sit by the window to await Mary's return to the cottage. Mary was always happy to go back and ran up the steps of the cottage and pushed the buzzer for the nurse to let her in. She would then wave goodbye to us from the window of the cottage with Jamella at her side.

The name was changed from Colony for Epileptics to Cambridge State School and Hospital in 1949. In the 1950's and early 1960's Cambridge housed 2000 patients. There was a men's cottage, women's cottage, and children's cottage as well as an auditorium and activities building. It had a working dairy farm and wood working shop where many patients worked. A lawsuit in the 1970's and new treatment options reduced the number of patients in half and eventually none. During this time the cottages were set up like family units. Jamella and Mary were separated during this time which was hard on them both. Jamella had cared for Mary's needs for so long that it had become a health risk for her. It had also hindered Mary's progress. Mary went on many outings into the community while at Cambridge such as plays, movies, and camp. She loved to people watch. She would also get this glint in her eye for mischief.. She was especially hard on new care givers and gave all quite a work out.

The Bishop of the St. Cloud Diocese also confirmed the patients at Cambridge. Her mother was her sponsor and the celebration took place in the auditorium and activities building. It was written up in The St. Cloud Visitor.

Mary always rushed to her brothers Arnold and Joe for hugs before her sisters. The one exception was her sister Kay who had taken care of her at home. Whenever she came to visit from out east Mary went directly to her.

Mary was one of the last groups to leave Cambridge. The family was against this at the time as Mary had been at Cambridge for 48 years and this was her home and family.

Hubert Humphrey (who started his career in politics first as mayor of Minneapolis, then Senator and then Vice President) was instrumental in changing the laws and closing institutions such as Cambridge. He had a daughter who was developmentally disabled and he could afford to pay for good care for his daughter. He realized many could not. Minnesota was ahead of most states at this time. The fight still goes on today as this is always the first place cuts are made to local, state, and federal budgets. The disabled do not vote.

Hubert Humphrey said, "The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children, those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life - the sick, the needy, and the handicapped."

From Cambridge Mary came to a group home in Elk River named Shire. She was there from 1989 to 1991. She then transferred to another group home in Elk River, LaVine Place, where she has been to the present.

The family is grateful and thankful to all the care givers Mary has had over the years. It takes special caring people to do this work.

A Memorial Mass will be held at St. Andrew Catholic Church, 566 4th Street NW - Elk River, on Saturday, August 03 at 11:00am with a visitation one hour prior. Memorials can be made to Options of Big Lake or LaVine Place of Elk River.

To send flowers to Mary's family, please visit our floral section.


August 3, 2019

10:00 AM to 11:00 AM
Church of Saint Andrew
566 - 4th Street Northwest
Elk River, Minnesota 55330

Memorial Mass
August 3, 2019

11:00 AM
Church of Saint Andrew
566 - 4th Street Northwest
Elk River, Minnesota 55330

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