Ardes Memmott was born in the Mormon ranch town of Scipio, Utah in 1922. She grew up working hard on the family ranch outside of town, where she learned to hate chickens. She was a good student who loved to argue. She hated injustice: the ordinary favoritism shown to boys over girls and the petty cruelties inflicted on weaker kids. She dreamed of a real career, went off to college to study science. The war soon interrupted this plan, and Ardes worked in defense industries throughout the war, including one year at the Hanford nuclear site, the setting of her book, It’s Classified. During the war, working in Salt Lake, she met Jim Shea at the Coconut Grove Ballroom. They married on V.J. Day, 1945, and moved closer to Jim’s home, a farm near Enderlin, North Dakota. It was a shock to Ardes to be so exposed after having always been protected by mountains. The couple taught at small, isolated, frequently snowbound schools. They tried farming on one of the Shea family farms, just as the horse was being replaced by the tractor.
In 1953, Jim and Ardes and their son Peter moved to a 17-acre farm near Forest City, Minnesota. Jim taught school in nearby towns. Ardes took care of the livestock and raised a big garden, from which they sold produce, mostly potatoes, cucumbers, and sweet corn. Their second child, Pat, was born in 1956. Ardes was an innovative gardener. She tried new ideas in the garden, and developed the first Christmas tree farm in the area. She was also a tireless maker: quilts, rugs, pickles, seed paintings, dollhouses. She remade the farm, building up the soil and shaping a living space sheltered by trees.
Ardes cared about her community. She became an unofficial advisor to Father Fred Fink of the Church of St. Gertrude, helping to shape the religious education program and to think through the meaning of the Vatican II renewal. She worked with kids: in Great Books, as a catechism teacher, and as a substitute teacher. She was also active in DFL politics, a member of a hospital oversight board, and one of the founding members of the Forest City Stockade Committee.
After Jim retired, she and Jim wrote their life stories as part of the Litchfield Area Adult Writers Group. They stayed close to home, enjoying their grandchildren (Becky, Oliver, Kathryn, Tim, and May), and taking an active interest in the life of the Forest City community – and in the wildlife around the farm. After Jim died in 1997, Ardes remained on the farm, living with enthusiasm and spirit. For 14 years, she was on the teaching staff of a University of Minnesota course, “Lives Worth Living;” she said it kept her convinced that world was in good hands. Despite breathing problems and general frailty, she remained independent and in good health until diagnosed with esophageal cancer in March 2016. After saying goodbye to family and friends, completing a book, and explaining her hopes for the future, she died, quite suddenly, on May 24, 2016 at age 93.
Hopework LLC is the suggested beneficiary for memorials; it carries forward her values of inclusiveness and humane education.
Hopework is a limited liability company formed by the founders of Philosophy Camp, where Ardes was part of the leadership team for 14 years. Donations to Hopework in her name will support work that she identified as important. As funds permit, such donations will support:
Learning circles, story circles, and other group strategies that ensure that everyone has a voice in discussions and in decision-making.
Sensible homework in elementary and secondary schools, homework that is “about home,” that is, about problems and possibilities that students face in their everyday life.
Planting of trees in ways that promote human happiness and the health of the land and of the community.
Children’s independent philosophical thinking and the development of their confidence as thinkers.
Donations to the Ardes Shea Memorial Fund may be made by check made out to Hopework LLC and sent to 2650 University Ave W, Apt. 315, Saint Paul, MN 55114 or via PayPal using the donation button below.