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UPDATED: Ask Mr. Answer Person: "Who was Mary Christopher, for whom the Decorah park is named?"

Posted: Wed, Jun 7, 2017 4:22 PM
Mary Christopher

(Recently Mr. Answer Person answered a reader question about whether a city park--such as Mary Christopher Park on Water Street--could be sold by the city--  One question has led to another.  Melissa asks, "Who was Mary Christopher?"):

Mr. Answer Person says: "The answer involves one of Decorah's most distinguished residents.  Fred Biermann served three terms as a U.S. Congressman, from 1933 through 1939.  He also spent 23 years as a newspaper editor.  And he was a life-long supporter of Decorah's parks system, serving many years on the Park Board.  Biermann's biography can be found at:,-Frederick-Elliott-(B000449)/

You might never have predicted Biermann would have such a productive life, based on how his life started.  When Fred was just four years old, his mother, Martha, died and he left his home in Rochester to come to Decorah to live with his aunt--Mary Christopher.

Mary Eleanor Christopher was born on a farm in Springfield Township to Jens and Gjertru Christopher.  She was one of nine children. Mary lived in Decorah more than 50 years.  She never married or had children of her own. She took care of her parents until they passed away, then
she helped all of her brothers and sisters with the care of their families. Mary died from cancer at the age of 70 years old.

Fred Biermann later wrote his aunt gave him "a love as devoted and unselfish as any mother ever lavished on her own child."  In short, Biermann adored his aunt.  Mary Christopher died in 1929,  Fred Biermann died in 1968, but he still hadn't forgotten the woman who took him in when he was four years old.

Mary Christopher Park--built where the Rock Island Railroad train depot once stood--was dedicated in 1970 to a woman who loved nature and who dedicated her life, as Fred Biermann put it, to "devoted service and self-sacrifice." 

(Thanks to Decorah Genealogy Association and to the Winneshiek County Historical Society for supplying information and documents about the lives of Mary Christopher and Fred Biermann)

Former newspaper editor, then U.S. Congressman Fred Biermann of Decorah (Photo from Wikipedia)
Mary Christopher Park