Friend Remembrances

Stepping Back: Ella Sturgis Pillsbury Crosby  

A look at one of Mia’s most ardent champions. 

Ella Crosby’s children remember her as the “gracious matriarch of her large family.” Her passing in 2012 at the age of 96 left an enormous void in her family and Minnesota.   

Ella was one of six children and the oldest daughter of Eleanor and John Pillsbury. Her maternal great-grandfather was Civil War-era General Samuel Sturgis, for whom Sturgis, South Dakota, is named. Ella’s childhood home was only a block away from the Minneapolis Institute of Art. At the time, this neighborhood included some of the most elegant homes in Minneapolis, owned by influential and successful business leaders.  

Ella was educated at Northrop Collegiate School for Girls (now The Blake School) in Minneapolis and graduated from Foxcroft School in Virginia. She continued her education at Vassar College in Dutchess County, New York, but left college early to marry Thomas Crosby in 1937. The beautiful wedding at Plymouth Congregational Church was exquisite, with each of the bridesmaids carrying ferns instead of the planned floral bouquets. Apparently, there was a florists’ strike, so flowers were not available for the bridesmaids. Ella’s father was very much aware of complying with labor unions, as Pillsbury Company had recently reached an agreement with its own labor union.  Thomas’ grandfather, John Crosby, was a partner in the Washburn Crosby Co., another historic Minneapolis milling company, later to become General Mills. Incidentally, Washburn Crosby Company was the namesake of WCCO radio and television. 

Thomas spent his time as a General Mills executive and later became a founder of Northwest Equity Partners. Together Ella and Tom raised six children. The family was everything to Ella, and she was indeed the cornerstone of her family. Family traditions were a large part of the Crosby family. For more than 60 years, Ella hosted an annual Christmas gathering greeting all of her guests with a very warm smile and a multitude of thoughtful questions.

Ella Pillsbury Crosby with her family

Ella was also known for her sense of humor, yielding to a reputation as a very approachable woman throughout the city.  In addition to entertaining and raising her family, Ella loved to share her passion for travel with her children. Ski trips, European journeys, and nature excursions made for wonderful family memories. With these experiences in mind, Ella stated, “When I look back on all the fun I have had, and the places I have traveled, the most rewarding part was that I shared these times with my family and good friends….I am glad to see that my children grew up with this same sense of responsibility and purpose that is larger than any single individual.”  

Ella led by example, often rising to positions of leadership within the organizations she supported. This included being the director of Steven’s Square, then a nursing home for seniors, and the Lake Minnetonka Garden Club president. She volunteered for the Minneapolis Hearing Society and the Society for the Blind. During World War II, Ella demonstrated her compassion by volunteering as a nurse’s aide for the Red Cross. 

The Minneapolis Institute of Art was fortunate to have Ella as a supporter and volunteer, including taking on the Friends of the Institute’s presidency from 1960-1962. Membership greatly grew during this period, a sales and rental gallery was installed, and the docent program started in earnest.  Due to other commitments, Ella never became a docent and regretted this decision. She also served on the museum’s Board of Trustees from 1964-1972 and then again in 1976 and 1977. Ella was one of the first women to serve in this capacity.   

Installation day, 1998

In the 1990s, Friends of the Institute began planning for its 75th anniversary. Ella decided to commemorate her long-standing membership and desired to do something special for Friends and the museum. Also, being a granddaughter of Charles A. Pillsbury, one of Mia’s founders, further motivated Ella to find the perfect gift. Thinking back to visits to the museum, she always felt the outdoor pedestals on the 24th Street entrance seemed empty. She began to think of lions as they were believed to protect buildings from evil and, to this day, still found in present-day China flanking important institutions.  As it happens, the museum was expanding its Asian art collection at this time. Ella asked then Mia Asian art curator Robert Jacobson to search for the appropriate pair of 18th-century guardian lions. They were indeed found guarding the entrance to a nondescript shop but proved too difficult to export. Instead, replicas were carved of the lions in the same style. The lions were completed in 1998, and the 1915 original stairway had to be reinforced with 30 tons of concrete to bear the 16-ton weight of the male and female lions. Apparently, it is crucial to have both a male and a female when displaying guardian lions. If a viewer approaches the animals, they will notice that the male lion holds an embroidered ball, and the female lion plays with her boisterous cub beneath her paw. Ella’s generous gift attributed to Friends, as well as a dedication to the memory of her husband Tom, remains a landmark gift to the Twin Cities, safeguarding all who enter the museum.  

Ella’s brother George said of his sister, “She led a full life. She always did her best, whether on the tennis court or skiing or involved with the art institute. She was always interested in art and culture.” Her legacy lives on as her contributions and energies are appreciated and noted.  

Friends Centennial History Publication Authors:  Pamela Friedland, Linda Goldenberg, Mary Merrick, Suzanne Payne, Connie Sommers

Remembering a special friend of the friends


In the fall of 2010, Pauline Altermatt and I put our heads together to decide who we might ask to fill the role of Honorary Chair for Art in Bloom 2011.

With the blessings of Mia, we asked generous patron and donor Ruth Stricker to please consider being our Honorary Chair and let the Friends, by her acceptance, say thank you for her many contributions.  Ruth accepted but asked to be kept out of the limelight, which reflected her graciousness and the way she led her life.  For both Pauline and me the exposure to this amazing woman was a great addition to the success of Art in Bloom 2011.  For this,  I will be forever grateful.

– Linda Boelter

Editor’s note: Ruth Stricker passed away on April 14.

Remembering Friend and former Art In Bloom Chair Pauline Altermatt at this year’s Fashion Show

Pauline Altermatt, via Star Tribune

We’d like to invite you to join us in remembering Friend and former AIB Chair Pauline Altermatt, at this year’s Art in Bloom 2020 Fashion Show and Luncheon. 

For Art in Bloom 2020, Linda and Phil Boelter have generously begun a sponsorship drive with a lead donation to remember our Friend.  All contributions will be donated to the Friends Wheels on the Bus campaign, which brings thousands of school children each year to experience Mia’s world-class educational programming. Please add to this sponsorship by contributing whatever you wish in Pauline’s memory.

All contributors will be recognized at the Fashion Show and Luncheon on Friday, April 24, 2020.

Tickets to this event will be available beginning March 1 at 

To donate, you can mail a check or drop one off in person to:
Minneapolis Institute of Art
C/O: Friends of the Institute, Art in Bloom
2400 Third Avenue South
Minneapolis MN 55404

Note: Please put “Pauline Altermatt” in your check memo line.

Or, if you prefer, you may call the Friends Office (612.870.3045) to provide your credit card information.

Friends Remember a Dynamic Volunteer 

Sally A. Mathieu, October 5, 1930 – December 21, 2019 

Sally Mathieu

“We receive more than we give by volunteering.” These are words Sally Mathieu lived by,  shared with her family and led by example with the rest of us. 

Over the years, Sally held multiple positions on the Friends board and co-chaired events such as the Fashion Benefit, Art in Bloom and served as a board advisor. Sally’s passion for volunteering was not limited to the Friends. Sally was also an active board member or volunteer for the Minnesota Orchestra, The Woman’s Club of Minneapolis, The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, Courage Center, Ridgeview Medical Center, and the Waconia Public Library. She was known for her can-do spirit and willingness to be involved. 

As much as Sally enjoyed and believed in the value of volunteering, her family meant the world to her and our sympathy is with them at this time. 


Douglas J. Olson, husband of loyal Friend, Mary, is remembered. 

Portrait of Douglas and Mary Olson, benefactors for the museum’s Adopt a Painting Program

Douglas J. Olson, a longtime supporter of the Minneapolis Institute of Art and husband of loyal Friend Mary, passed away peacefully on November 27, 2019.

He was involved in many community organizations and is best known to longtime residents as the owner of the Olson Bros. Pharmacy. Both Doug and his brother Roy graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Pharmacy, and soon after, founded their pharmacy in 1955, They stayed in business until their retirement in 1994. Many remember Olson Bros. with fondness as an important fixture of the community.

His wife Mary has played an active and supportive role with the Friends for many years, and is a current member of Mia’s Board of Trustees. Our hearts are with Mary in this time of sadness.

Remembrance of our Friend

Pauline Altermatt is remembered as a True Friend

True Friend, Pauline Altermatt passed away recently and will be deeply missed. Her remembrance in the Star Tribune says she was “a member of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and active with the Friends of the Institute.” And that she was!

As the longtime events manager of Dayton’s eighth-floor auditorium, Pauline sponsored many Friend’s fashion shows there, beginning in the 1950’s when she brought Emilio Pucci and his signature geometric silk prints all the way from Italy. Although not as gracious as the Sky Room, the auditorium held a larger audience, thereby raising more funds for the Friends of the Institute. The Friends fashion shows supported a variety of projects at Mia including furnishing Mia’s Pillsbury Auditorium, publishing a handbook of the Institute’s collection, and forming a new library. Over the years, Friends at the fashion shows could also contribute to museum needs such as exhibitions and catalogs, audio-visual equipment, acquisition of art, and school children and art education.

Pauline and her close friend Linda Boelter co-chaired Art in Bloom for two successful years, 2002 and 2011, and for several succeeding years worked together on the AIB Preview Party dinner, making sure every detail was perfect.

We will miss this treasured Friend.

Remembrances of our Friends

We remember our longtime Friends, Margret Arnar, Joan T. Smith and Tom Byfield.

Longtime Friend’s member, Margret Arnar passed away in September.  She, along with a group of Friend’s members met every month for many years to enjoy the wonderful monthly Friends Lecture and also attend special events.  Born in Iceland, she came to the United States in 1960. She continued to work in the world of design and never forgot her Icelandic homeland as every holiday season she put her design skills to work at the American Swedish Institute designing the Iceland’s room for over 40 years.  A wonderful, creative woman, she will be missed by all those who have known her over these many years.

Joan T. Smith died peacefully on September 1, 2019. She was a retired Vice President in the Trust Investments Division of Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., and a loyal Friend’s member who rarely missed the monthly lecture. Joan was a professionally certified Chartered Financial Analyst, an active member of the CFA Institute Twin Cities Society of Security Analysts and the Minnesota Society of Municipal Analysts, who sat on the State of Minnesota Board of Investments Advisory Council. Joan was exceptionally civic minded, beyond her quiet philanthropy.

Loyal Mia and Friends member, Tom Byfield passed away peacefully surrounded by family at the end of August.After he retired from his dental practice, Tom completed the two-year training to become a docent at Mia. He enjoyed giving tours, wrote humorous columns for the MIA Docent Muse and served on the docent advisory board for almost 20 years. Tom was an artist, musician and writer. His paintings and hand crafted jewelry are family treasures.

We treasure and will miss these treasured Friends.

Remembering Lynn Schaefer

Longtime Friend remembered for her love of all things Art in Bloom and Mia.
Lynn Schaefer Photo 2017Lynn M. Schaefer was a devoted Friends member who cherished friendships, lectures, travels, and Art in Bloom.  As a long-time Friends member, Lynn and her husband Tom, believed strongly in supporting community organizations, Mia, and the Friends.  For years, Lynn, along with her dear friend, Margene Fox, donated a Cotswold, England trip to support Art in Bloom.  Lynn relished the experience of guiding tours for groups of women through the English countryside.  Although on May 19th, Lynn Schaefer lost her courageous battle against Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis, know that she will never stop smelling the Art in Bloom flowers with her Friends.
By Tracy Schaefer, daughter-in-law to Lynn Schaefer

Remembered with Gratitude: Anne Hull

Anne Hull
Anne Hull

Anne Hull, 21st president of The Friends of the Institute, died February 12, 2017 at the age of 100 years. Prior to beginning her two year Presidential term in 1962, she served on the Friends board as co-chair of the successful fundraiser 1956 Opportunity Sale and later, as Membership Chair, Secretary, and Treasurer. Friends membership was over 1,100 when she began her presidential duties. An Evening Division was begun to accommodate those who were not able to attend daytime events. Friends lectures were not open to the public at that time. Sherry was available after the program. The Fashion Show Benefits, an Art Sale, the Museum Shop, and the Friends Sales and Rental Gallery provided funds so that the Friends could support art education for children, general support to the museum, and a special gift to be used for the new Third Avenue entrance.
Anne and her husband moved to Washington, DC in 1971. Anne ran the Hull Gallery there and maintained her membership and interest in the Friends here. She returned to Wayzata in 2005 and was Honorary Co-Chair of Art in Bloom 2009. The Friends are grateful for and will miss Anne’s strong leadership and continued support.

Remembering Ann Birt

It is with great sadness we announce the passing of our dear friend, Ann Birt, on June 9th. Ann was an active member and supporter of the MIA and the Friends organization, serving in numerous positions on the Friends Board. Art in Bloom 2012 was successfully co chaired by Ann. The Friends are grateful for her capable leadership in many positions. We will miss her warm heart, friendly smile and charisma. The Friends will continue to follow her example of a can do spirit!