Few people know that Mae Marie Blackmore, who died Friday, June 11, at age 95, was a leader in setting the standards for early childhood education at the state and national levels, say friends who are remembering her this week.
“Professionally, I don’t think very many people in North Dakota know the role she played in North Dakota and nationwide in early childhood education, that she was a leader, the pioneer in early childhood education on college campuses and really setting the accreditation standards,” said Bruce Gjovig, a longtime friend.
“She was of national standing in her profession, early childhood education, and was a pioneer in that field in the '60s, '70s and '80s,” Gjovig said.
A visitation will be held from 4 to 5 p.m., Wednesday, June 16, at Amundson Funeral Home, 2975 S. 42nd St. The funeral is set for 2 p.m. Thursday at Augustana Lutheran Church, 520 University Ave., with interment to follow at Memorial Park North Cemetery.
Blackmore launched the effort to establish the North Dakota Association for the Education of Young Children. She more or less told Judy Milavetz, an early children educator whose own child attended the University Children’s Center, to get involved with the local chapter of that group, Milavetz said.
“She was a real strong proponent of raising the professional standards in the field (of early childhood education),” she said. “It was always one of her passions. She was a good networker.”
Milavetz, who served for a time on the UCC advisory committee, remembers Blackmore for her work as director of the UCC, she said. “She established it as an institution at UND.”
Milavetz credits Blackmore for the “professionalization” of the field of early childhood education, she said. “She did what needed to be done for children at the time.”
Blackmore served on the board of the local historical society and led the organization as president, said Leah Byzewski, director of the Grand Forks County Historical Society.
“She never stopped learning,” she said. “We exchanged books often and she would share some of my titles with her book club. She was usually the first person here for Entertaining History lectures -- making sure she got a seat in the front row.”
“She was an amazing person,” said Byzewski, who admired her friend for “her strength in picking up her family and returning to Grand Forks after her husband’s fatal plane crash (in 1957 in Duluth).”
Blackmore also recruited her to the horticultural society, Byzewski said. “Working with her was really fun. I have plants now at the museum that will become treasures because they came from her garden.”
This was the first year that Blackmore did not attend the Memorial Day ceremony at the cemetery, Byzewski said. “I felt her absence. She would always have to walk away just before Taps was played. She could not help becoming emotional every time.”
Blackmore was known by many for her volunteerism.
“She an extraordinary community volunteer,” Gjovig said. “She was devoted to her family and devoted to children and children’s education, and she was totally devoted to our community.
“She served on so many boards -- arts, culture, history, Chautauqua, Altru, the symphony, the state Council on the Arts, as well her sorority, Pi Beta Phi -- there’s all sorts of them, it’s just sort of amazing,” he said. “She was a dedicated volunteer who cared deeply about improving her community.”
“On a personal side,” Gjovig said, “I’ve known her for 45 years, and I loved her because of her direct style of communication, her frankness. You never had to guess where Mae Marie was coming from, she would just tell it like it is -- and in a very positive way. She was never mean or harsh, but she was direct, she was frank.”
After Blackmore’s husband, Byron Blackmore, a captain in the U.S. Air Force, died in a plane crash in 1957, she returned with her children to Grand Forks.
“Life was not easy for her, being a widow, with four children under the age of 8, losing a daughter, and then also not really getting the support of her faculty and dean (at UND),” Gjovig said. “And she just persevered anyway. She plowed through, made it happen.
Her academic colleagues “didn’t see early childhood education as important. When she was doing this in the '60s and '70s, they didn’t recognize it really as a profession until when she was ready to retire,” he said. Blackmore retired from UND in 1990.
“Because it’s really more about the social development of the child and learning through play, they did not see that, I don’t think, as academic enough,” he said.
“She always emphasized discovery, learning through play is discovery, and that social development was just as important as what they actually learned.”