Joan Sommerdorf Klein, 84, died Aug. 12, 2019, at Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul.
Joan Klein was born Aug. 25, 1934, in St. Paul, the daughter of Alfred and Bessie Sommerdorf. She grew up on St. Paul's east side and attended Harding High School, graduating in 1952. She won a scholarship to St. Catherine's University in St. Paul, and graduated in 1956.
Joan took a job as an English teacher at Burnsville High School in its first year of existence, when it was a K-12 school with 400 students. She and other staff members helped organize the school and build its traditions. She taught there for five years.
Joan married Frank Hemming Klein of St. Paul on Aug. 22, 1959. Joan and Frank had five children and were loving parents. The family's dinner table was known for its robust conversation and varying quality of food, as all the children took turns cooking.
In 1977, Joan returned to teaching at Highland Park Junior High School. After she received a master's degree in special education at St. Thomas University, she helped build the special education program at Highland Park Senior High School, where she taught until 1992. She demanded much from her students and was a strong advocate for them. They discovered talents they didn't know they had and gained confidence and were grateful to her. She retired in 1992.
After retirement, Joan's chief occupation was being a loving mother and grandmother to her five children and 20 grandchildren. All of them have special memories of basking in her warm attention and kindness.
Joan remained a lover of poetry and prose, and she was a strong Democrat. A highlight of her life was the election of our first African-American president, Barack Obama, and a major disappointment was the defeat of Hillary Clinton, who would have been the first woman president. She was a feminist and active supporter of women's rights.
Joan is survived by her husband, Frank; one daughter, Dr. Melissa Klein Gardner (Keith) of Mendota Heights; four sons, Frank Joseph (Anne) of Eagan, Michael John (Traci) of Rochester, State Sen. Matthew David, M.D., (Kristine) of Mendota Heights, and Dr. Benjamin Daniel Berrigan (Julia) of Marietta, Ga.; a brother, Richard (Kathy) Simmer of St. Paul; as well as 19 grandchildren.
She was preceded in death by her brother, Jon Sommerdorf; her sister, Janice (Larry) Nagle; and a grandson, Matthew Sandon Sonnenberg Klein.
A gathering will be from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 16 at O'Halloran and Murphy, 575 S. Snelling Ave., St. Paul.