IN MEMORIAM - August 2019

Birks an early advocate

Jane Wyman Donnelly Birks is remembered as a longtime advocate for people with developmental disabilities. Birks died last month after a brief illness.

She was 95 and lived in St. Paul.

During her adult life she was an advocate for individuals with developmental disabilities, taking on many roles in groups that are now part of The Arc Minnesota. Birks was the first parent advocate at the Minnesota Legislature, a capacity in which she volunteered for 15 years. She served as a board member, board president and spokesperson for ARC of Saint Paul, as chair of the boards of Minnesota Diversified Industries and Mental Health Resources, and as executive director of the Developmental Services Organization. She also served on numerous state committees, governors’ commissions, and with many other community groups.

At age 50 she earned her pilot’s license and visited many countries. She was a highly competitive tennis player, an active swimmer, a voracious reader, an accomplished writer and artist, and an enthusiastic Vikings fan. She is survived by children, step-children, grandchildren, a great-grandchild, a sister and many other relatives and friends. Services have been held.

Her family requests that memorials be sent to her son’s sheltered workshop at Merrick Inc., 3210 Labore Rd, Vadnais Heights, MN 55110 or to ARC Minnesota, 2446 University Ave. W., St. Paul, MN 55114.

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Hetterick led in community

John F. Hetterick was a high-profile executive who became an equally high-profile disability advocate during retirement. Hetterick died earlier this summer. He was 74 and lived in Plymouth.

Hetterick was best known as the CEO of Rollerblade. He held marketing and executive jobs at PepsiCo International, Tonka International, General Mills and elsewhere over the years.

In his later years, Hetterick was known for his advocacy for people affected by disabilities and social disparities. He led development of housing in Robbinsdale that combined Section 8 housing with owner-occupied condos. He got involved with a variety of disability-rights organizations and helped spur the creation of the Able Act, a federal law that allows parents of children with disabilities to set aside money tax-free for their future needs. The idea for the program came to Hetterick while he was working in Washington, as a 2004 recipient of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation’s Public Policy Fellowship. President Barack Obama signed the Able Act into law in 2014.

He co-founded the not-for-profit No Place Like Home Communities Inc. and served on the boards of charities including Opportunity Partners in Minnetonka, Minneapolis’ Project for Pride in Living, the National Disability Institute in Washington and The ARC Greater Twin Cities.

His advocacy was motivated partly by personal experience. He and wife Kathe adopted two children from Colombia, a daughter with a learning disability and a son who works with people transitioning out of homelessness.

Hetterick is survived by his wife, a sister, his son and daughter, and four grandchildren. A celebration of life will be held at 6 p.m. October 11 at the Theodore Wirth Pavilion in Minneapolis.

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Severance sued for rights

Rozanne Keister Severance is recalled for her pioneering advocacy for people who use wheelchairs. Severance died in July. She was 75 and lived in Minneapolis.

The Elmore native attended Concordia College in Moorhead and Mankato State University, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She worked at Northwest Airlines as a flight attendant and at the University of Minnesota.

After an auto accident, Severance used a wheelchair and became a disability rights advocate. She chaired a Metropolitan Council committee for people with disabilities. Severance sued Mankato State and the State of Minnesota over access issues for public buildings and transportation in Minnesota under the Americans with Disabilities Act and won.

She also served as president for Bethany Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.

She is survived by brothers and sisters-in-law, and many nieces and nephews. Services have been held.