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Margot Anne “Topsy” Larsen Simonson died peacefully December 10, after a wonderful week singing her favorite Christmas carols with her loving family and countless friends. She left her life as she lived it, filled with enthusiasm, generosity, and her infectious joie de vivre. She never let dementia dampen her enthusiasm, bringing light into many lives right up to the end. Her adventurous, creative spirit still fills us with gratitude and wonder.
Born August 28, 1929 to Margaret (Zerbe) and Roy Larsen in New York City, Topsy spent much of her early life in Fairfield, Connecticut and on the island of Nantucket, where she summered for almost 90 years. A graduate of Miss Porter’s School, Topsy went on to Sarah Lawrence College, graduating in 1951 with a degree in childhood development. She served on the boards of both schools for many years, and was a strong advocate for women’s education.
In 1952, she married Gordon H. Ritz and moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a far cry from her childhood home out east. In 1957, the Ritz family, now including three children, Susan, Gordon “Cracker”, and Margot “Muffy”, moved to Minneapolis, Gordon’s hometown. While busy raising her three children, Topsy jumped into the nascent cultural scene of Minneapolis, lending her prodigious organizing and fundraising talent to support a variety of Twin Cities institutions, including the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Guthrie Theater, Walker Art Institute, Jungle Theater, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden (where she co-funded the Hare on Bell sculpture), and the Minnesota Orchestra.
In 1993, she received the Sally Ordway Irvine Award for Commitment, recognizing her generous support of the Twin Cities arts community. A self-proclaimed “children’s book freak,” Topsy was instrumental in the development of the Children’s Theater Company, which she helped grow from plays performed in church basements, to the wonderful Twin Cities treasure
that it is today. As a Children’s Theater Company trustee for more than three decades, she raised funds and promoted a dream that transformed it into an internationally acclaimed professional theater. In her honor, the foyer graced by the Chihuly sculpture was named Topsy’s Tower, a tribute that made her immensely proud.
Topsy’s breadth of interests went well beyond the arts, extending into education, women’s rights, and conservation. She helped found Highcroft School—formerly part of The Blake School—and served on the board of Breck School for many years as an energetic and devoted grandmother. As a long-time member of the Junior League, Topsy also served as a juvenile-probation officer, involving her in a very different side of her community; she was also an early advocate for the local chapter of Planned Parenthood. Her final role as board member was for The Friends of the Mississippi River.
Almost every organization she became involved with benefitted from her consummate role as Hostess with the Mostest. No one could throw a party like Topsy! From Christmas pig roasts to the Symphony Ball, her parties brought together family for holidays and members of the Twin Cities organizations she supported to enjoy time together and raise funds that expanded the social and cultural scene for which the Twin Cities is now famous.
Topsy had the great fortune to share her life with four adoring partners. She raised her children with first husband Gordon H. Ritz, Sr. They divorced in 1971, but remained close until his death in 2001. Her second husband, Drew C. Simonson, was an avid traveler whose fly fishing adventures took them to exotic realms like Bhutan, Patagonia, and New Zealand. After Drew died in 1991, Harold H. “Sandy” Tearse, Jr. brought his calm presence to her life, keeping her centered in the midst of her whirlwind adventures until his death in 2016. At the age of 85,
she fell for Kingston Fletcher, her cruise mate and steady companion through the end of her long life.
Topsy caught the travel bug in the early 1970s while visiting daughter Susan in Kenya, Singapore and Indonesia. Once she got going, she never stopped, traversing the globe from Antarctica to Alaska, Borneo to Bhutan (where she was one of the first tourists allowed into the previously closed Himalayan nation). Her two trips to New Guinea sparked her enthusiasm for Asmat art, which led to the founding of the Asmat Museum with the Crozier Brothers missionary group. The museum is now housed at St. Thomas University in St. Paul.
Topsy shared her love of travel with her seven grandchildren, taking them on trips to South Africa, Kenya, Egypt and Alaska, adventures that created a special bond across the generations. In keeping with her generous nature, she shared her trips with friends and family through long descriptive letters and many slideshows at Woodhill Country Club. Her final trip was a cruise that docked a week before COVID, which ended her far-flung quests. But as she succumbed to dementia, her many photo albums from journeys across the globe kept her entertained.
For her children, Susan, Cracker, and Muffy, she was a shining light, a guiding star, and, most of all, an adoring mother, always there with a bright smile and kind words of cheer, praise, and encouragement. An infectious optimism of spirit and fun were her calling cards. Generous to a fault, her forgiving, compassionate nature tinged with a silly sense of humor endeared her to her many friends, and remains the best part of her legacy. She was one of a kind, and we were fortunate to have her loving presence gracing our lives for 94 fun-filled years.
Topsy is survived by brothers Johnathan (Mary Peacock) Larsen and Christopher Larsen; her three children Susan (Ethan Atkin), Gordon (Leone) and Margot Ritz; her grandchildren Margot (Adam) Marquit, Charlotte Zwick, Erica (John) Abbett, and Mitch Ritz, Daniel (Michelle) Otter, Nina (Matt) Otter, and Elisa Otter; and nine great-grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, charitable contributions can be made to The Children’s Theater Company of Minneapolis or a charity of your choice.
A celebration of her life will be held in the spring of 2024. A formal announcement will be posted in The Star Tribune with additional details.