Mary Alice Gensor Roberts | August 12, 1936 – August 1, 2020
By the request of the children of Mary Allice, this Memorial Tribute was written by their cousin Captain Michael Hall, Chaplain Corps, United States Navy.
Mary Alice Roberts was born on August 12, 1936 in Kansas City, Kansas. She was the oldest child of George Grisnik and Anna Zager, both first generation Americans of Croatian descent. Her maternal grandparents Anton and Mary Ozbolt Zager and paternal grandparents Tom and Theresa Grisnik immigrated from Croatia in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The Zagers came from a town called Cabar located in the mountains near the Slovenian border. Mary Alice was the mother of three children Joe, Tom and Mary Ann, and the sister of George, Judith Anna (Judy) and Patricia Jo (Patty).
Mary Alice passed away on August 1, 2020 in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. She is preceded in death by her parents and brother George. She is survived by her children Joe Gensor (wife Eda), Tom Gensor, and Mary Ann Johnson (husband Steve) and her sisters Judy and Patty.
Mary Alice was my aunt and a wonderful person. She was pleasant to be around and always open to good conversation. She was an academic, teacher, political activist and champion of the underdog.
Mary Alice was born and raised near the ethic neighborhood of Strawberry Hill in Wyandotte County, Kansas. She had a large extended family who played an active role in her life. Her maternal grandmother immigrated to the United States in 1904 and had eight living children. The oldest two sons died of tuberculosis during the Great Depression and another Joe was killed in action in Guadalcanal in World War II. Her remaining aunts and uncles were Alice, Tony, and twins Frank and Eddie. Her mother Anna was the only one who had children of her own and the other siblings helped to care for the children. Mary Alice was very close to her grandmother and particularly her Aunt Alice. She lived with her Aunt Alice at different times in her life and her aunt made no bones about the fact that Mary Alice was her favorite. Alice married late in life and had her own daughter Anna.
Mary Alice’s father George served in the Navy and when he was young operated a tavern in Kansas City, Kansas. He eventually built a dry-cleaning plant in the Bottoms near Strawberry Hill and operated a dry-cleaning store in Sugar Creek, Missouri. He had two siblings Annie and Tom who ran a tavern in the Bottoms.
Mary Alice was a very intelligent child. She found school to be easy and a place where she could consistently achieve. Her sister Judy said her mother once got upset because instead of a doll Mary Alice wanted a science kit. Her Aunt Alice told her mother to let her have what she wants and bought it for her. She was popular, pretty, and talented. She could sing and dance and found joy in drama. In her early teens she was a ballerina and performed at the Power and Light Building in Kansas City, Missouri. An injury ended her dancing career, which was more of a disappointment to her mother than to her. School was a world where she fell in love with reading and learning. Teachers became role models and provided a safe place from an often-chaotic home life. It is not surprising that her life’s work was in education.
During her teen age years her family lived in the back of their cleaning business in Sugar Creek. Missouri. Mary Alice worked in the store and helped take care of her siblings. Mary Alice was very social and their home were always filled with her friends. Judy said that she always looked up to and bragged about Mary Alice because she was smart, talented, she sang in church, and always had lots of friends.
Mary Alice married Joe Gensor in 1955 and had three children Joseph (Joe), Tom, and, Mary Ann. She divorced in 1961 and raised her children as a single, working woman. Her son Joe said, “My mom could divorce because her education and job skills gave her this freedom.” She made the same as a blue-collar male in the 1960s which was very rare for a woman. “My mom was about 50 years ahead of her time with her education and views on the rights of women.”
She attended the University of Kansas City, now the University of Missouri, Kansas City graduating in 1959 with a degree in Chemistry and Biology ranking second in her class. She earned a Masters in Secondary Education in 1962, and a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction in 1983. Her daughter Mary Ann once asked her mother why she kept taking classes after getting her Doctorate degree and Mary Alice said that she loved learning new things.
Mary Alice began teaching Chemistry and Microbiology at St. Luke’s Hospital School of Nursing in 1962. In 1969 she was promoted to Curriculum Coordinator and later Director of Academic Services. She worked for St. Luke’s for 27 years. In 1989 she became the Curriculum Coordinator for the Health Professions Program at Southeast Magnet High School in Kansas City, Missouri. She served as the Program Administrator until funding for the program was cut. She retired from teaching in the 1996.
Mary Alice remained friends with many of her colleagues from St. Luke’s. Many of them continued to gathered for a monthly lunch. Her friends remember her as being smart and with a great sense of humor. Linda Jones said, “Mary Alice was a good friend. We often talked and laughed about our memorable times at St. Luke’s, especially the old days. I admired her wit, her intelligence, and her friendship.”
Robert Hughes said, “As the non-nurse in the group in our faculty, Mary Alice offered a unique perspective and gave us the data we needed to make good decisions. I especially enjoyed being with her in the last few years and enjoying a whole other side of her personality. She was unique and very special.”
Her friend Carol Byrd said, “Mary Alice was a very good friend to me. She supported me through my doctoral studies and she was always ready to tackle any problem we had with curriculum. I too thoroughly enjoyed her unique humor and her particular ‘take’ on her experiences with the health care system. I will miss her.”
Dorothy Jones said, “Mary Alice had a special place in my heart. I loved her dearly. I was a part of the first diploma class that went to Avila. We were not particularly welcome there, especially in chemistry class. I went home and cried every night because of Sister Paul Joseph Kumsoumpus (sic), but I went to Mary Alice with my problem, and told her I would have to quit if I had to stay in that class. Everyone was having a problem with that class. Mary Alice took our concerns to Mrs. Hilker. Mary Alice rescued us by agreeing to teach us chemistry. She will always have a special place in my heart.”
She was very proud of her children. She very intentionally raised them to be critical thinkers and independent. Later in life she said maybe she overdid the independent part. Joe said that his mother was “Alexa” or “Siri,” 40 years before that technology. “I could ask my mother meanings of words and pronunciations and she could answer.” Joe said his mother “gave him the most important gift a mother can give a child. She did not shut off his questioning and encouraged him to think on his own.” Joe recalls one particular Sunday afternoon car ride when he was a child. He said that he kept asking question after question:
“How far is far? “
“I there not something always beyond far?
“Where did we come from?”
“Did someone make us?”
She never said that is a silly question or gave the conventional answers. Instead she used Socratic questioning to help him think for himself. Joe said it was not until his 60s that he was able to reflect on how he was taught to question and think helped him in his career as an analyst and commercial lender.
Her friend, Shellie Montemurro said, “Mary Alice and I would chat on the phone or in person every few months, we would talk about the past, the future, and her views on things happening in our world. She also would share how proud of her children she was. Her way of teaching them by not telling them how to think or act but by questioning them and saying “What do you think of that?” when a big question like religion, politics, social events would come up. She mentioned it was the Dr. Spock method. She knew that by the time kids had peer pressure, those who had parents tell them what to think were more likely to give in, where kids who had their own beliefs were more likely to not. I think that is how she was with many of us and why we felt her support so strongly. She made us better because we thought about the words we were using, the actions we were taking.”
She allowed her children to make their own decisions and deal with the
consequences. Mary Ann said, “I remember asking my mom if I could stay up late on a school night and said sure as long as you get up and go to school. Lesson learned.” “I always asked her opinion but I did not always listen.” All of her children are good money managers, Mary Ann said that her girlfriends loved talking to and getting advice from Mary Alice because they liked the liberal side of her.
Joe’s wife Eda described her mother-in-law as a really special person. She said a lot of people have problems with their mother-in-law but we got along really well because we shared similar views of the world. She had a lot of knowledge and could carry on an intelligent conversation about anything. She was articulate and non-judgmental and raised a good son who is generous, caring and independent. She had a sharp mind to the very end and was technological savvy. The first time Eda met Mary Alice she was awe of her depth and breadth of knowledge and because she was so articulate. Eda said that Mary Alice was not emotional or sentimental but she had a strong and deep love for her children, but she became a little more emotional as her illness brought us all together.
Mary Alice was a political activist. She fought for social changes and women’s rights, especially in education. After she retired, she went to live at John Knox Village where she was also the caretaker of her sister Patty. It was there she started a group named Seniors for Justice, a politically active group of seniors who regularly protest, circulate petitions, and encourage an engaged and educated electorate. At one protest Mary Alice came up with “Out of Our Rockers” as the theme. Representative Keri Ingle said, “They decorated signs and we stood at a busy intersection in Lee’s Summit on tax free holiday to protest for bipartisan solutions to help fix the Affordable Care Act( Obamacare), voicing support for protecting Medicaid funding and demand proper funding to prevent a collapse of the market, which could be devastating to millions of Americans and increase uncertainty. It was an amazing day.”
She considered running for political office herself but when that did not happen, she encouraged young women running for office. She told State Representative Keri Ingle, she was living that dream through her. Shellie said, “She always was about lifting up the next generation. She cared deeply about me, as well as Keri Ingle (State Representative) and Hillary Shields (ran for state senate twice and current city councilwoman). She held events for us, had us as her guest speakers, and lifted us up. She allowed us to use that group to get some of the best questions and practice on speaking on the issues we cared about.”
On August 21, 2001 John Knox Village asked President George W. Bush to visit. He accepted and when the President of the Republican Club was out of town they asked Mary Alice the President of the Democratic Club to introduce him. How many people get to introduce the President of the United States? She joked that she probably lost some friends over that one. However, she told us he was very friendly and she liked him.
Mary Alice had nine nieces and nephews, three from her brother George and six from her sister Judy. I remember when Mary Alice received her PhD we decided to take her out to dinner to celebrate. We went to the Spaghetti Factory in Kansas City. Mary Alice arrived wearing a red blouse and told us she chose red in case she got sauce on it. We all started laughing when she ordered a white sauce. I always enjoyed my interactions with Mary Alice. I was away in the Navy so our interactions were sporadic over the years but I saw her when she visited Aunt Alice in San Diego where I was stationed. We always had good conversations and like others I enjoyed her sense of humor. I have not married and when she came to my brother Clayton’s wedding only my brother Steve and I had not married. Someone asked who was next? Mary Alice said, “Is okay, every family needs a rich uncle.” I
told her, “Well I never thought it would be me!” In her final days we had exchange emails and texts. She kept her positive spirit to the end and she will be greatly missed.
Mary Alice leaves a legacy of family, good friends, smart conversations, a
compassion for people, (particularly the underdog), and a life’s work in education. She was witty with a great sense of humor that took life seriously with just enough fun. We will remember her as one of us, a fellow journeyer who followed her own path with grace and wisdom.
Rest in peace.
For more information: Mt. Moriah, Newcomer and Freeman Funeral Home & Mount Moriah Cemetery South
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