Mary Ellen Cavanaugh

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Mary Ellen Cavanaugh
Mary Ellen Cavanaugh September 3, 1930 to June 16, 2018

After almost nine decades of happy stewardship, Mary Ellen Cavanagh died Saturday, June 16, 2018, at her home in Lansing, Iowa. 

Mary Ellen was born September 3rd, 1930, to Charles and Julia (Riley) Carroll and raised on the Carroll Dairy Farm in McGregor, Iowa. She inherited her mother’s strength and used it in positive and nourishing ways. Mary Ellen graduated from Immaculate Conception Academy in Dubuque in 1948 and attended Iowa State Teachers College in Cedar Falls. For several years thereafter, Mary taught in the one-room schoolhouses of Clayton County: Beulah, Sny Magill and Swede Ridge. More than 60 years later, looking at a class photo from those years, she could name every student and tell a story about them.

Always open to life’s adventures, Mary left Iowa and moved to Chicago. There she met a Chicago Tribune photographer named Ross Cavanagh, whom she married April 28, 1962. Mary and Ross raised their four children near De Paul University, in the kind of happy and dynamic neighborhood that makes city living wonderful. 

Mary enjoyed working to help support her young family. She was employed in the sales department of educational publisher Scott Foresman and as office manager at Brenik Furniture (Met Display) Manufacturing. She had no co-workers there, only friends.

After retiring in 1999, Mary returned to northeast Iowa. She and Ross settled in on the banks of a trout stream in a beautiful valley of pine trees, stars and wild turkeys. She continued to read the Chicago Tribune daily, looking forward to its crossword puzzle. She loved the Iowa Caucuses. She loved the small Catholic churches of the surrounding bluffs. She found real joy in generosity: witness the dozens of charities she supported, or the brood of feral cats who thrived under her deck. She never met a stranger. Every worldly encounter—waiting in line at a store, a floral delivery, a neighbor’s visiting granddaughter was an opportunity for friendship, or at least friendliness. True, you scored extra points for being a Roman Catholic or a Democrat, but her smile was for everyone, her heart always opened wide as a church door.

Mary is survived by her husband, Ross Michael Cavanagh, Jr of Lansing, Iowa; her four children, Ross Michael Cavanagh III of Chicago, Illinois, Sean (Michelle Kaiser) Patrick Cavanagh of Chicago, Illinois, Kevin Regis (Trish) Cavanagh of San Francisco, California and Molly Kathleen (Michael) Cummins of Edwardsville, Illinois; five grandchildren, Chloe and Abigail Cavanagh and Michael, Jane and Nora Cummins; and siblings, Sheila Tallman, Mike (Joanne) Carroll and Pat (Karen) Carroll.

Mary was preceded in death by her parents, Charles and Julia Carroll; her sister, Kathleen Milewsky; and her brother-in-law, Tom Tallman.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in her honor to Immaculate Conception Church of Lansing, Iowa, or to the Sierra Club.

Visitation was held from 4-7 p.m. on Friday, June 22, 2018, at Thornburg-Grau Funeral Home and Cremation Service, Lansing, Iowa. There was also be a one hour visitation before mass at the church on Saturday.

Mass of Christian burial was held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 23, 2018, at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Lansing, Iowa.

Thornburg-Grau Funeral Home and Cremation Service of Lansing, Iowa assisted the family with arrangements.


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