The word “couple” seems inadequate to describe Mary Jane and Basil Wissner. “Doting couple” would be closer, but not quite there. “Soulmates,” maybe?
Married for 58 years, the Wissners were known for their community involvement and philanthropy in Eden Prairie, where they lived since the late-1960s.
“They were joined at the hip,” says friend Gary Stevens.
Mary Jane, he recalls, would admit she was the apple of her father’s eye and even a little bit spoiled before Basil, a Marine lance corporal who grew up in an orphanage, came into her life. Her dad wondered aloud if this new guy would provide the comforts to which she was accustomed.
Not to fear. “Basil kept her on a pedestal. He loved her to the nth degree,” Stevens says. “Because here came this woman of his dreams.”
Mary Jane died May 9, and Basil died just 23 weeks later. They were memorialized – as a couple, naturally – on Oct. 8 at Pax Christi Catholic Community in Eden Prairie.
Basil and Mary Jane were married in Baltimore, but Basil’s career in data processing brought them to Minnesota. They so loved Eden Prairie that, for many years, they attended nearly every city council meeting to keep up on community news and issues of the day.
They had no children of their own, but many in Eden Prairie became part of their extended family and were represented at the private memorial service, where attendance was limited and people were seated well-separated.
Basil and Mary Jane quietly donated to many local organizations and causes, among them the Eden Prairie Crime Prevention Fund and the Eden Prairie Community Foundation. They supported all things related to the late Dr. Jean Harris, the city’s first woman mayor and only black mayor, and especially construction of the Jean Harris Gathering Bridge at Purgatory Creek Park and ongoing funding for the Foundation’s Dr. Jean Harris Scholarship, awarded annually to a high school senior from Eden Prairie with outstanding involvement in diversity and human rights.
The “quietly” part reflects their humility. Father Bill Murtaugh, pastor of the Church of Christ the King in Minneapolis and a former pastor at Pax Christi, thinks the Wissners never officially joined Pax Christi as members, but they helped the church in numerous ways for many years and attended services regularly, seated in the third row, to the right of the church’s altar.
“They just did what they felt was the right thing to do,” he said. “They were wonderful human beings. They had no ego.”
Murtaugh reminded folks at the memorial service that death didn’t have the last word on Basil and Mary Jane; that they are now home with the God they worshipped: “No more Alzheimer’s, no more heart trouble … just love and peace with their God.”
Basil and Mary Jane were ages 82 and 79, respectively, when they passed away. They are buried in Pleasant Hill Cemetery, just a short walk from Pax Christi.
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