In a nearly 30-year nursing career with the DuPage County Health Department, Mary Jane Klinger was an energetic advocate for healthy lifestyles who also served on state and regional nursing organizations.
The longtime Wheaton resident led the department's nursing division at a time when the agency was expanding public health services to accommodate rapid growth in the area, including a prenatal program for low-income women.
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"She had such a good perception of the needs of the county as well as a great feeling for giving the services in the most friendly and open way with respect for the patients," said Jim Paulissen, the department's former executive director.
Klinger died Nov. 30 in Milwaukee. She was 86.
Born in Elgin, she joined the department in 1962 and became a nursing supervisor of its first satellite office in Addison. When the department looked to add offices, Paulissen hired Klinger as the director of the nursing division in 1977, a position she held until her retirement in 1991.
"I was convinced she was the one to do it," the West Chicago man said.
As part of her role, she supervised a staff of nurses, hygienists and nutritionists; oversaw services like home visits and vision and hearing screenings in schools; and trained young nurses.
"She had been a public health nurse before she became a leader," Paulissen said. "She was out in the field working as a public health nurse and she never forgot that. She had a great rapport with the staff."
She also sat on many nursing associations, as well as advisory board committees at Benedictine and Xavier universities. In 1993, the YWCA of DuPage recognized her professionalism and volunteer commitment as an outstanding woman leader in the category of science, technology and health care. Only nine DuPage women received the honor.
Despite her busy schedule, she was a compassionate "listener" and devoted aunt to six nieces and nephews and 14 great nieces and nephews, friends and family say.
Laura Feldmann, Klinger's niece, called her a "second mother."
When Feldmann's twins, Katie and Lisa, were born in 1993, Klinger traveled from Wheaton nearly every weekend to help take care of the infants.
"She gave me such practical advice on taking care of children," said Feldmann, of Glendale, Wis.
Feldmann's other daughter, Amy, is now following in Klinger's footsteps, studying at the nursing program at Chippewa Valley Technical College.
"I know she got a lot of inspiration from my aunt and her nursing career," Feldmann said.
Feldmann's sister, Liz Bannon, described their aunt as a professional leader shaped by her childhood in the Depression era and someone who bristled at the term "stressed."
"She was excellent at going with the flow," Bannon said. "Some people are just easy to have around, and she listened very well, and you could tell her anything and it would not faze her."
Bannon, who grew up in Milwaukee and now lives in Port Washington, Wis., often visited her aunt in Wheaton where she was treated to her special dinners.
"She would say she's a nurse, but she never talked about herself or her career much," Bannon said. "When she was with you, it was like you were the star in the room. She gave 100 percent of her attention. She was just a treasure."
Visitation is at 11 a.m. Saturday at Alexian Village in Milwaukee. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Alzheimer's Association and Alexian Village.