Mary Hastings Michener Lawrence
Paid family tribute
Mary Michener, well-known Lawrence bookstore-owner, community activist, and humanitarian, died on November 19 at the age of 91. Many in Lawrence will remember her as the always cheerful owner of the Adventure Bookstore, as a teacher of Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics, and as a tireless advocate for the disadvantaged.
Mary Hastings was born in 1919 in Santa Cruz, California, majored in entomology at the University of California, Berkeley, and married her lab instructor, Charles Michener, after a four-week courtship in 1941. Charles and Mary moved to Lawrence in 1948. In 1949, they moved into the home they would share for 61 years, raising four children, traveling the world, and living lives of ceaseless productivity. With her keen mind and indifference to hardship, Mary was well suited to her essential role as partner and support in the travels and researches of her husband, Charles Michener, one of the world’s leading authorities on bees. January 1 would have marked their 70th wedding anniversary.
The printed word was, in one form or another, always at the center of Mary’s life. For fifteen years she was editor of the Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society, and with her husband she wrote the book American Social Insects. In 1972, with only a few tables of books in a basement at Hillcrest Shopping Center, she started the Adventure Bookstore. Mary’s career as a bookseller lasted 23 years, and Adventure expanded into a two-floor bookstore at 944 Massachusetts. The second floor, devoted to children’s books, is still fondly remembered by many Lawrencians who played and read there as children. Mary left the bookstore to her family when she was 76, but even then couldn’t leave books behind, instead moving on to the Lawrence Public Library, where she worked as a volunteer for another five years.
Books surrounded Mary at home, as well, and she was usually reading several simultaneously. More often than not she was reading about a country she had visited or was going to visit, while also studying a language that could help her speak to the people there. With her husband, Charles, and eventually with all four children, Mary went on a series of year-long scientific expeditions to Panama, Brazil, Australia, and Africa, and made shorter trips to China (twice), India, Thailand, Mexico, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Trinidad, Italy, and the Fiji Islands.
Mary’s was a life of constant activity and compulsive usefulness. Intensely conscious of her own good fortune, she was always driven to help people whose lives were less happy than her own. She was a generous supporter of the ACLU, the Democratic Party, Doctors without Borders, the Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Ballard Center, the Bert Nash Center, the Kansas Land Trust, the Social Service League, and many, many other international, national, and local organizations.
Mary was long involved with the League of Women Voters and the Lawrence Coalition for Peace and Justice, was a driving force in Citizens for Public Transportation (whose efforts resulted in the creation of the “T"), while in her 80s worked as a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer, and was teaching writing classes to female inmates at the Douglas County Jail until the age of 88. But Mary never retired from anything — she just moved on to the next project. Her last undertaking was the organizing and retyping of a massive archive of her own letters, documenting a lifetime of travel, thought, and good deeds.
Mary was practical and positive, believed in the basic goodness of other human beings, and was unfailingly generous with anyone in need. She will be remembered for her fearlessness, her determination, her boundless curiousity, and, especially, her ready laugh. Only a few weeks ago she said, “I’m going to live to be a hundred because I’m happy!” When she didn’t, it came as a shock to her family, because as Charles remarked, “She very rarely said anything that wasn’t true.”
Mary is survived by her husband Charles, her children David, Daniel, Barbara, and Walter, their spouses, nine grandchildren, and one great grandchild. She was predeceased by one infant great grandchild. Though there will be no funeral, an outdoor memorial service is planned for the spring. Donations in lieu of flowers can be made to any charity working to make the world a better place.
This information was provided to the Journal-World as a paid tribute.