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Mary on her trip to India this past year

In 1973, the same year Minnesota became the 26th state to ratify the ERA, Mary Ruch found herself in a challenging predicament: She had just become a single mom of two girls, ages 31/2 and 5 months. She was determined to provide for them but knew that working a minimum wage job ($1.50 at that time) would hardly pay for a babysitter. She decided the only way out was to ask for government assistance. She received a Pell Grant so she could finish her college degree, which she did in two and a half years.  From the beginning, Mary was a strong feminist and vowed to make a good life for her girls on her own, and never get married again.  

True to her vow, Mary was successful throughout her varied career. Her first job was for a Community Action Program in Little Falls where she worked in poverty programs (Home Improvement Grants and Home Weatherization) After a few years, she moved to the cities and became a multi-family housing underwriter at Minnesota Housing Finance. She did change her mind about marriage however after meeting Dave at work. She warned him that she and her daughters were a package deal but this did not deter him. They were married in 1982 and Dave and Mary were good partners raising her two girls for 36 years until Dave passed away. 

After they were married, Mary moved into the banking business where she structured loans for commercial real estate developers. She did that for 16 years and then shifted into lending for affordable housing. During the final years of her career, she was invited to become the Chief Credit Officer at the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency. By then Mary had a reputation as being straight with people regardless of whether they were asking for millions to develop a commercial property or something much more modest. “Just being myself and giving people straight answers was appreciated by my customers,” she says.

Like many of us in SCVANOW Mary was drawn to the group because it provided a vehicle for progressive women to come together and make an impact. She has met many great women in the group and feels the three focus initiatives we have planned for this year are good ones and very doable. She is working on the ERA ad hoc committee as well as being our Treasurer.  

“The trick to being confident and successful,” says Mary, “is to focus on others. If you focus your energy on others, you forget to worry about yourself.” Mary is obviously a doer and although she says she’s been lucky in life, her attitude of trusting and focusing on others probably has a lot to do with it too. 

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