Mary Lou McElreath Falkenstein
1928 - 2020
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Lou was born on January 8, 1928, to Ruth (Gumm) and Elger McElreath in Durant, Oklahoma. Lou's grandmother, Ophelia "Mimi" McElreath, figured prominently in Lou's upbringing following the untimely death of Lou's mother Ruth in 1939. She is survived by her loving children, Dr. Matthew Allen Falkenstein (Teresa) of Bend, OR, and Leigh Meigs (Steve) of Durango, CO; grandchildren Madeleine Meigs, Jackson Meigs, Zoe Falkenstein (Tyler Joyce), and Miles Falkenstein; nephews and nieces Scott Palmer, Melanie Palmer, Linda Westfall, Leigh Ann Burkhart. She is preceded in death by her husband, William "Bill" Allen Falkenstein, and her brother "Mack" McElreath. Lou attended Texas Woman's College and eventually graduated with a BA in History from North Texas State University.

In 1946, Lou and Bill, high school sweethearts, were married; they celebrated 54 years of matrimony. Bill died in 2000. Their love song, circa 1943, was You'll Never Know (Just How Much I Love You). Bill's Navy career would take them to Norton, Oklahoma as well as San Diego, California, before they settled in Dallas County, Texas, and began raising a family in 1958. Upon retiring from careers in 1988, Lou and Bill moved to Durango where Leigh and Steve were established, and where Matt and Teresa would later join. Lou was a devoted "Grammie" to her grandchildren in whom she encouraged interests in art, music, travel, play, humor, and books. Lou and Bill were adventurous travelers, including four-wheeling and motorcycling in the backcountry. Lou traveled the world with Bill, with other family members, and with friends, eventually covering at least 18 countries. She lived in Durango from 1988 through 2018.

Lou demonstrated activism with a humanitarian orientation throughout her life. One of her favorite childhood memories was sitting with other girls on the playground rocking baby dolls in protest of rules preventing girls from playing sports. As early as 1963 she was a member of the League of Women Voters (LWV), actively opposing the Poll Tax and other voter suppression laws. In 1964, Lou and Bill joined with friends to co-found the Irving Human Relations Council. Ahead of their time, the White-led Human Rights Council collaborated with the Black-led West Irving Improvement Association to achieve desegregation of the Library and Swimming Pool, fight for the annexation of Black neighborhoods, and pilot the first Head Start School in Dallas County. Civil Rights activism was a family affair, with Lou and Bill including their children in demonstrations of discriminatory exclusion of Black families at the swimming pool. Later in life, Lou marched against the Iraq War and marched for women's rights during the Me, Too movement. Lou was a lifelong Democrat. She was a member of the LWV since 1963, and a member of the American Association of University Women since 1988.

During her 28-year career as a Social Worker employed by the State of Texas, she advocated for the humane care of nursing home residents. She joined with the Governor of Texas in "midnight raids" to uncover neglect and abuse of the elderly and disabled in the 1970's.

Lou valued good friends at every stage of life and was admired and loved for her intelligence, spirited personality, and kindness. Books, music, food, ideas, and laughter were always within her repertory for connection with dear friends. Lou was devoted to the "Friday Lunch Bunch" for 30 years where discussion ranged from politics and society to local anecdotes and philanthropy. She had a lifelong love of theatre and the arts, had a beautiful singing voice, and loved to harmonize as a member, over the years, of Durango Choral Society and the Sob Sisters trio. She attended almost every Durant High School Reunion. She was an active member of the Last Monday Group, the Edouard Society and AAUW, and the LWV of La Plata County. She was a member of the Reading Club of Durango.

The life of our beloved mother and grandmother came to a peaceful end from natural causes on October 3, 2020, in Bend, Oregon, where she enjoyed being close to her son Matt and his family during her final 18 months of life. A Celebration of Life will be announced when gatherings can be attended safely. In lieu of flowers, please send donations to World Wildlife Fund (worldwildlife.org), or to the AAUW of Durango.

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in The Durango Herald on Oct. 14, 2020.
Memories & Condolences
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4 entries
October 17, 2020
Mary Lou was my Dad’s sister. I have many fond memories of time spent with Uncle Bill and Aunt Lou at Lake Ardmore. Aunt Lou was a kind, caring person who will be missed. I’m impressed by all her accomplishments, some of which I did not know. Condolences to Susie and Matt and families. Love from your cousin.
Linda Westfall
Linda Westfall
Family
October 17, 2020
Lou was an absolute treasure. I feel privileged to have known her. She exemplified the kind of loving, caring, activist person I endeavor to be.
Scott Graham
Acquaintance
October 16, 2020
Dear Mary was indeed a lovely person in all ways. Best love to Leigh, Steve and all who were touched by Mary and who shall miss her. Kind condolences from AnnieOlga.
Ann Johnson
Acquaintance
October 14, 2020
I am sad to hear of your mom’s passing, but enjoyed reading of her especially meaningful & active life! She was certainly a force to be reckoned with. Condolences to all.
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