Joan Mondale ’52, a Macalester alumna and former Trustee, lifetime advocate for the arts, and former Second Lady of the United States, passed away Monday at the age of 83. Her memorial service will be held Saturday at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis, and as a sign of her commitment to both Macalester and the arts, the Macalester Concert Choir will sing at her service.
On Sunday, the choir was performing with the Pipe Band at their annual service at the House of Hope Presbyterian Church, when President Brian Rosenberg approached Choir Director Mike McGaghie with a request. Mondale had just been moved into hospice, and her family wanted the Concert Choir to perform at her memorial.
“Before the service, Rosenberg pulled me aside and said, Joan Mondale is ailing and in hospice, and the family expects the memorial very soon. And they want the Concert Choir to sing at the service,” McGaghie said.
McGaghie began making arrangements for the choir to sing. Mondale passed away the next day.
Rosenberg had been asked by Rev. Timothy Hart-Anderson, a member of the Board of Trustees and Pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church, on behalf of Mondale’s family if the choir would be available to perform.
The choir will be performing two pieces during the memorial: “Sanctus” by Gabriel Faure, and “The Pilgrim’s Hymn” by Stephen Paulus, a contemporary composer.
“Sanctus”, the third movement of Faure’s Requiem in D Minor, is “a statement of praise,” according to McGaghie. The singers exalt “Hosanna in excelsis,” meaning “praise in the highest.”
“It’s really beautiful and soaring. It’s a duet between the soprano higher voices and the basses and tenors who are in harmony, so it’s a call and response, really beautiful,” said Jolena Zabel ’16, who is in Concert Choir.
The Pilgrim’s Hymn was written by Paulus, a contemporary composer who lives in St. Paul. It already has an established repertoire, having been performed at funerals of dignitaries such as former Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.
“It’s a beautiful, beautiful piece. It’s a piece about community, a peacefulness and subtle triumph,” Zabel said.
Both pieces were already in the choir’s repertoire. McGaghie gave the music director at Westminster, Melanie Ohnstad, a list of pieces that they would feel comfortable performing, and she selected those two pieces.
“All of us are deeply honored”
The invitation by the Mondale family to have the choir perform was considered to be a tremendous honor to the choir and the school.
“I think all of us are deeply honored to have Macalester be a part of Joan Mondale’s memorial service. It is, I think, a sign of how important a part Macalester played in her life,” Rosenberg said.
“It’s cool, as Macalester students currently, who maybe in an indirect way — or perhaps a direct way — benefitted from Joan Mondale and the Mondale family — to pay tribute to that. It’s definitely an honor that can’t be overstated,” Zabel said.
Nathan Leech ‘14, a choir manager, echoed those feelings, saying it is a “huge honor” to participate in the memorial service.
“As members of the Macalester community who reap the benefits of Mrs. Mondale’s hard work supporting this college and the arts, we feel immense pride in being able to help commemorate her life,” Leech said.
A rich legacy of art and learning
Mondale was known for being a strong advocate for the fine arts throughout her life, dating back to when she studied art at Macalester. After marrying future Vice President Walter Mondale, ’50 (her father, the Macalester chaplain at the time, officiated the wedding), she eventually moved to Washington, D.C., where she continued her advocacy, working in art galleries and turning the Vice President’s mansion into a hub for public display of art. She also served as honorary chairwoman of the Federal Council on Arts and Humanities.
After Walter Mondale’s appointment as Ambassador to Japan, she continued her advocacy overseas, promoting intercultural cooperation and understanding through art. The Mondales eventually returned to Minnesota, where Joan served on the Boards of Directors of the Walker Art Center, Minnesota Orchestra and National Portrait Gallery.
Mondale also had a rich connection to Macalester and continued to be affiliated with the school long after she graduated. She served on the Board of Trustees from 1986 to 2007 and served as a Trustee Emerita afterwards.
“Macalester has lost an alumna, passionate champion and friend. Joan’s dedication to the college, keen mind and extraordinary heart will be sorely missed on campus, as through the rest of Minnesota,” Rosenberg said in a press release issued after her passing.
The American flag on campus was lowered to half-mast in remembrance of Mondale.
During her time on the Macalester Board of Trustees, she was able to integrate her love of art and dedication to Macalester. Mondale successfully fought for an initiative that required one percent of all construction spending on campus to be dedicated to public art.
Much of the art in new buildings across campus, such as the Campus Center, Markim Hall, Alumni House renovations and Janet Wallace, is in place due to Mondale’s initiative and passion for the arts. A collection of Japanese pottery in Markim Hall was donated by Mondale herself.
Mondale’s support also extended to the performing arts on campus. According to McGagie, Mondale helped arrange the Concert Choir’s last overseas trip to Japan a few years ago.
“Joan Mondale was a major advocate for the arts community, especially the Macalester Concert Choir,” said McGaghie.
The choir’s appearance Saturday will be a chance for the choir and college to give back and recognize everything Mondale brought both to Macalester and in the rest of the art world.
“This is one of those things—when the college and community ask of you something like this, you step up and do it—we help out in any way we can,” McGaghie said.