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Lifelong Red Wing advocate dies at 108

Catherine Ullrich sat down with her son, Jim Ullrich days before her 108th birthday in October 2016 to fill out her 23rd presidential ballot. Photo by Maureen McMullen.

Catherine Ullrich tended not to dwell on the past.

Although Red Wing author and longtime friend Marcy Doyle described her as Red Wing's "veritable history book walking around," Ullrich's voracity for learning kept her up to date on the latest local and world news.

"About the last thing she would say in a conversation was keep me informed," said Doyle, who was friends with Ullrich for nearly 60 years. "She never talked about the 'good old days' or the past, she was always interested in the now and the future."

Ullrich died Sunday, April 30, several months after celebrating her 108th birthday.

Last November, Ullrich capped off a lifetime of political engagement by casting a vote in a presidential election for the 23rd time.

Her interest in politics and worldwide current events began in 1918 at the age of 10, when halted fighting on the Western Front signaled the end of the first World War.

She recalled the newspaper editor at the time driving down her street, shouting the news out the window.

She later served as assistant to Eugenie Anderson, a Minnesota senator who helped establish the state's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and became the first woman to serve as a U.S. ambassador.

Evidence of Ullrich's passion for art, culture and history is embedded in local history.

Anthropologist Frances Densmore, a fellow Red Wing native, enlisted Ullrich's help as she meticulously archived Native American music throughout Minnesota. That body of work is archived at the Smithsonian.

Ullrich also played a pivotal role in local groups such as Woman's Study Group, Art History Club, Sheldon Theatre productions, and establishing Red Wing's first book club.

"She's always been involved in community activities, but she never wanted to be in the forefront," Doyle said. "She was a background worker and she liked being there. She was so creative, she was a thinker."

Inducted into the Red Wing Women's Hall of Fame in 2007, she wasn't told until she showed up for the luncheon because organizers feared she would stay away if she knew.

"You're right, I always was in the background and happy to be there. I think I was secretary of everything I ever belonged to," Ullrich said in accepting the honor.