Genevieve Jilk O’Grady, 82, died on Saturday, August 22. Though she had survived many major health challenges in the past decade, including cancer, her death was due to heart failure. For the past months as her heart slowed down, she was able to stay at home while cared for by her family.
With a lifetime of fiercely advocating for the underserved, she dedicated her energy to family, education, peace, justice, and the outdoors. Her legacy lives on in stories told and memories shared, in protests marched and issues caucused, in birds watched and gardens tended, in learning pursued, in poetry read and books discussed, in music played and songs sung, in the rituals, traditions and holidays celebrated, in finding beauty everywhere and in her children and her children’s children.
She was born July 30, 1938 in Winona, Minnesota to Florence (nee Monahan) and Leo Jilk. The family moved to Minnesota City where she was raised ‘a country girl’ on The Jilk Brothers family farm. At 14 she joined The Sisters of the Holy Spirit Convent in Techny, Illinois where she completed her high school degree.
She earned a Bachelor’s degree from The College of Saint Teresa in Winona, which began her life-long commitment to learning. During that time, she met and married her husband Marvin O’Grady and for 60 years they traveled the road of hope and love together. They lived on their farm just north of Minnesota City where they raised their six children (along with beef cattle, chickens, fruits & vegetables, countless pets and, occasionally, eyebrows); there, exempt from the public haunt, they found tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones and good in everything. [Shakespeare]
Gen taught in Minnesota City, Altura, Lewiston and Winona; inspiring students, parents and teachers alike. She was a recipient of the Bush Foundation Scholarship Award. Together with her husband, she was a founder of Delahanty Montessori School (now Bluffview), Riverhaven School in Winona and Riverway Learning Community in Minnesota City. Gen earned her Master’s Degree in English from Winona State University and for nearly 20 years she was a Professor at University of Wisconsin- LaCrosse during which time she completed her PhD in Education from Walden University at the age of 55.
Along with education, her life efforts were fueled by her desire to advocate for improved social conditions. She held multiple positions in numerous organizations over the years, including The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and Amnesty International. She served on the Governor’s Task Force for Mental Health and also served as Ombudsman for the Aging on the South Eastern Minnesota Legal Board. In collaboration with Winona’s colleges, a Peace Weekend was hosted at the O’Grady Farm garnering state-wide attention during the Vietnam War protest era. She was involved in actions to further social justice and promote peace including Winona Citizens for Peace, Up for Discussion (Plainview) and The Catholic Worker.
In her later years she nurtured community connections by creating opportunities for people to ‘tell their story.’ She was on the Board of Garvin Brook Disaster Relief Fund and she was a long-time member of the Minnesota City Community Readers. Gen and Marv were active in founding the Minnesota City Historical Association, establishing the archives and annual events, notably the holiday caroling. She authored the association’s newsletter.
She is survived by her husband Marvin, her children Bernadette (Tom) DiMauro; Rebecca (Brent) Weiss, James O’Grady, Joseph O’Grady, Kathleen (Scott Jensen) O’Grady and Sarah’s husband, Greg Wignes; by her grandchildren Olivia and Isabella DiMauro, Michael and Elisabeth Weiss, Seamus Novak O’Grady, Katy Wishnow and Sean Quinn, Ryan Jensen, James and Samuel O’Grady and great grandchildren, Quinn, Cullen and Stellan Wishnow. She is also survived by her siblings Leo (Barbara) Jilk, Catherine Todd Urban, Stephen (Jeanie) Jilk; her Aunts Sr. Marie Louise Jilk, S.Sp.S, and Lillian (Albert) Jilk; and her many nieces, nephews and cousins with whom she maintained close connections. She was preceded in death by her daughter Sarah, her sister Cecilia and her great grandson Mack.
In respecting her wishes, her immediate family held a private green burial at their cemetery. Due to the pandemic, there is no other service planned at this time. As the family now attempts to summon the strength to step forward they reflect on a quote from Rudolph Steiner which Gen embodied, ‘To wonder at beauty, stand guard over truth, look up to the noble, resolve on the good. This leads us truly to purpose in living, to right in our doing, to peace in our feeling, to light in our thinking and teaches us trust in all that there is in the width of the world and the depth of the soul.’
To honor her legacy, in lieu of flowers or tree planting, donations can be made to: The Minnesota City Historical Association at P.O. Box 21 Minnesota City, MN 55959 or The Catholic Worker House in Winona PO Box 102 Winona, MN 55987 or NAMI Winona at P.O. Box 1063 Winona, MN 55987.