A Life Remembered: Farnham loved green spaces, civic service

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Sep. 21—MANKATO — Malda Farnham's legacy to Mankato includes her influence as an educator, many years of volunteer service and a park's flower beds near downtown.

"Malda believed beautiful spaces helped build community," said Paul Vogel, Mankato's director of community development.

Farnham died Sept. 16. She was 82.

Vogel knew Farnham through her longtime service on the Mankato Planning Commission and her advocacy for the civic center. He remembers her as someone who strove to help the general public understand what was transpiring during commission meetings.

"She'd say to me, 'I'm going to ask a question you know I know the answer to because I believe others should know more about it.'"

Visitors to Mankato may not know about Farnham's civic service, but if they stroll near the Warren and Broad street intersection, they will visibly see how she contributed to her community.

"Malda enhanced an unkept piece of land. It was her way of giving back," Vogel said.

Malda Farnham Park was dedicated in July 2016 by city officials. The honor recognized the green space she created a decade earlier as a midtown respite. Vogel said Farnham had asked the city for permission to work the ground so she could fill it with trees, perennial flowers and shrubs.

Joe Farnham said his wife loved flowers, especially roses. Malda usually enjoyed her hobby in solitude — but that was not because she didn't like people.

"She was very sociable and outgoing ... Never in our 60 years of marriage did I hear her talk with hate. She was not a hater."

"Malda was a very talented person in the garden ... She did a program for us once about roses," said Barb Maher, of Mankato, a Master Gardener with the Extension Service.

Maher said the two women shared not only a love of nature, they worked together as election judges for many years. There had been times when polling sites they were stationed at were extremely busy and hectic, Maher said.

"Malda was the one with the most experience, so she was the one we would ask questions of."

A native of Latvia, Malda was forced to immigrate to Germany during World War II. She then immigrated to the United States in 1949 and was raised on a farm in South Dakota.

The Farnhams met when they were in college at South Dakota State University in Brookings. They moved to Mankato in 1979 when Joe took a position at Mankato State University. After Malda earned her MBA, she taught management courses in the college's business department. She served as assistant dean for MSU's College of Business.

When the couple bought their home on South Broad Street, the neighborhood was lacking in trees because of Dutch elm disease. To make matters worse for the plant-loving couple, their home was near an empty lot that had once been the location of a carriage house. Only a beleaguered lawn remained.

Malda approached then-Parks Supt. Floyd Roberts and asking permission to plant flowers there.

"I brought some plants with me that grew fairly tall and some flowers and planted them, but it's a big area," she said during the 2016 ceremony dedicating the little neighborhood park that now bears her name.

Malda had kept her remarks brief during the ceremony. She encouraged people to not recoil from trying to do something because the task seems too big.

"The thing to do is to do it in bits and pieces, and it works out. I encourage you to give a damn and take a chance."

Joe said that his wife eventually had to give up gardening. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease about seven years ago.

"She accepted everything with good spirit," he said, adding that her personality had remained "forever Malda."

Memorial services are 11 a.m. Saturday at Northview-North Memorial. The family is requesting donations to Alzheimer's Association and BENCHS be made in lieu of sending floral arrangements.

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