Since I began working at the archives a little over one year ago I’ve heard the names of several important patrons and gracious donators hang in the air. Without a doubt, the name I started encountering most often was that of “Grace Magnaghi”, likely because of the association with our Grace H. Magnaghi Visiting Research Grant.
When I was given the task to create an external website to showcase this grant, I was simultaneously given the opportunity to find out more about the infamous “Amazing Grace” Magnaghi. Prior to this project, the only thing I knew was that she was the mother of NMU’s own University Historian and retired professor, Russell Magnaghi.
What I learned is that Grace Magnaghi was a woman who I personally really admire. Beginning with her obituary from March 16, 2011, I got the beginnings of her story. Grace Mendiara was born in San Francisco on February 8, 1911; the daughter of French immigrants. She worked as a bookkeeper before marrying in 1931. The couple then had two sons, and Grace spent much of her time being active in the Catholic Daughters of America, Italian Catholic Federation, St. Anthony’s Guild and the Native Daughters of he Golden West. Grace was said to have had a wonderful sense of humor and enjoyed having a good time. She would go to the Landmark for a burger and a beer, or celebrate Bastille Day (France Independence) with crepes and champagne. Because of our Visiting Research Grant in her name, I had already known Grace Magnaghi was a contributor to the research and promotion of UP History. I learned that she additionally funded the Center for UP Studies; making $500 available each year to the NMU community or other parties to pursue research or create educational activities revolving around UP history. What made me even more fond of this woman, though, was her devotion to exercise.
An article from The Mining Journal published on January 19, 2006 is titled Working to Walk: Woman, 95, Beating the Odds. The story summarizes that Grace, after being bedridden with pneumonia for a year, was told she’d never walk again because her muscles had atrophied. However, when her son took her to personal trainer, Mike Koskiniemi, she was up and using a walker in eight weeks. She worked harder every day and encouraged others to do the same, she said:
“If a 95-year-old woman who has been stuck in a wheelchair can get motivated enough to come to a gym where only ‘fit people’ are supposed to be – what’s that say to someone who’s just sitting on the couch? That’s a big ‘yes, you can.’”
So, thank you, Grace Magnaghi, for a multitude of things. I am fortunate to have been able to learn about a fraction of your legacy. And remember, as February is now here and we begin to doubt our resolutions, the words of this amazing woman! I know they will motivate me.
And look forward to a website from the Central Upper Peninsula and NMU Archives in the next two weeks dedicated to the Grace H. Magnaghi Visiting Research Grant.
Written by Kelley Kanon