Mary Boenke

Obituary of Mary Boenke

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Mary Boenke, longtime civil rights activist, passed away last week in Roanoke, VA.  Mary was born in Erie, PA in 1929. She married John Boenke in 1954.  Mary earned her bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Wellesley College, a Master’s Degree in Community Organization from Case Western Reserve School of Social Work, and a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology from the University of Edinboro, PA. 

In the 1960s in Cleveland Heights, OH, Mary organized Heights Citizens for Human Rights, successfully lobbying the city council to pass a fair housing bill. She later worked for Model Cities in Dayton, OH, ran a Meals on Wheels program in Warren, OH, and was director of Contact, a crisis line in Ashtabula, OH.

When her daughter came out as lesbian, Mary educated herself and became a PFLAG (Parents Friends/Family of Lesbians and Gays) mom, starting a PFLAG chapter in Roanoke, VA.  Later the same daughter came out as a Transgender Man, and Mary went through the same process again to understand him and his identity.  She crisscrossed the country, advocating for inclusion of Transgender people and their families in 160 local PFLAG chapters and the National PFLAG organization, which responded by voting unanimously to included Trans families in their work in 1999, becoming the first national organization to do so. In 1998, Mary wrote Our Trans Children which became the most published gender education pamphlet ever, with more than 65,000 copies in print.  In 1999 she edited the book Trans Forming Families: Real Stories About Transgendered Love Ones, with introduction by trans-activist Jessica Xavier.

Mary is survived by her husband John, her children Mark, Adrian, and Myra, their spouses (Annie, Bernadette, Bill), five grandchildren, and the many, many other lives she touched throughout her career. A celebration of life will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Roanoke on Saturday, May 27, at 1pm. Livestream will also be available.  540-342-8888


Celebration of Life

1:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Saturday, May 27, 2023
Unitarian Universalist Church of Roanoke
2015 Grandin Road
SW Roanoke, Virginia, United States
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Mary Boenke

In Loving Memory

Mary Boenke

1929 - 2023

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