The ties that bind extend across life, a lake and death
I start my routine run at Thomas Avenue South and Lake Harriet Parkway, heading east. I conclude my jog on the lake's south shore at a pair of benches along the running/walking path. They are situated next to the steps that come down from the intersection of Queen Avenue South and East Lake Harriet Parkway and about 10 yards east of the famous “Elf” tree. (You know the one, but that's another story.) While admiring the unobstructed view of the pavilion and the Downtown skyline, it may be easy to miss the silver plaque screwed into one of the benches. It reads, “In loving memory of Alice Share.” While I'm trying to stretch life back into my legs, I often wonder, “Who was Alice Share and why is this bench dedicated to her?”
She must have been a special woman who likely held a warm place in her heart for Lake Harriet and possibly this same bench. I wanted to know her story. So while my legs carried me to Alice's bench, I let my fingers do the walking to find her family. Yes, I still know how to use the phone book. I called the Share residence closest to the lake. My message was returned a couple of days later and “Eureka!” Eldest son Steve was a wealth of knowledge, as were his two siblings, John and Ellen. They recommended I talk to Alice's best friend, Marion Schneck, whom I also looked up.
Alice Freeman was born in New York City. She graduated from Smith College in North Hampton, Mass. with an English degree. While in New York, Alice met Minneapolis native Robert Share, an attorney who was furthering his education in law at Harvard. They wed in 1951.
In 1957, they left the “Big Apple” for the “Minne”-apple, with its monolithic skyline of Foshay Tower. Alice was already familiar with Minneapolis, her mother's birthplace, and often visited her Grandpa Herman Silver, among other relatives. She even took the trolley to Lake Harriet during some of her summer stays.
It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship between Alice and Lake Harriet.
That natural connection is one reason the Share family, through the Foundation for Minneapolis Parks, sponsored the bench and established a fitting, or dare we say “sitting” tribute.
“Our whole life was shaped by Lake Harriet,” recalled Alice's daughter, Ellen Wein, who now lives in Pittsburgh.
“We could see the lake from our house,” said John Share, one of Alice's two sons who both stayed in the Twin Cities. The Shares resided at 49th Street and Newton Avenue South from 1964 to 1985. Eldest son Steve Share regarded Lake Harriet as an extension of their backyard. “There used to be a Morgan Beach. As little kids, we spent a lot of time down there with our parents. We had a canoe at our house and canoed a lot. We also had a sailboat on Lake Harriet.”
Alice also took advantage of the lake's proximity. She walked, jogged, canoed and enjoyed concerts, but as John said, ironically, “The funny thing is she never learned to ride a bike.”
Robert Share, who passed away in April, was even a Lake Harriet pioneer of sorts. According to Ellen, he was one of the lake's first joggers. “He had distance makers put in and hounded the Park Board into plowing the running track.”
A fitting accomplishment for a man known for his local activism which includes founding the Minnesota Chapter of the Sierra Club in his living room.
John said the family would like to dedicate a bench to him as well.
“Our parents were supportive of community causes. We feel it is a way to contribute to the community.”
The Shares shared their passion for the outdoors with their children.
“We canoed the Boundary Waters as a family, went backpacking in New Hampshire, Rocky Mountains, and Montana, and went skiing,” Steve remembers. “It was my mom who taught me how to paddle a canoe, camp, and ski. I now do those things with my kids.”
Besides teaching her children various skills, Alice taught English as a substitute in the Minneapolis Public Schools system and proudly raised three writers. Plus, she led tours at the Walker Art Center and managed apartment buildings.
The lake had also been a source of comfort for Alice. When she first moved to Minneapolis, Alice met a kindred spirit in Marion Schneck, a fellow New Yorker. They both missed the big city hustle and bustle yet they found solace at Lake Harriet.
“We came down those steps and sat on a bench. We would talk about good and bad things. We were both away from home and felt homesick and lost,” Schneck remembered. “We needed a place to get comfort. It was a place we both felt good about.”
Struggling, enduring, sponsoring
Alice leaned on Lake Harriet's shoulders again while battling breast cancer over the last 15 years of her life. During that struggle, she traveled to the Soviet Union, India and even hiked the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps. But often the best therapy was in her backyard, the serenity and comfort of Lake Harriet. Sometimes for a jog. At times just to sit. Marion Schneck recalled with admiration, “She was a brave, courageous person. She needed time to be alone with her thoughts.” Alice Share passed away in 1997.
Now Alice's bench has become a therapeutic couch, of sorts, for family and friends.
“It's a place to go and reminisce”, Ellen said. “Lake Harriet is like a benchmark, so to speak, for a lot of things. Such fond memories. I remember the first time I biked around the lake and ran around the lake. Even my first kiss.”
John remarked, “I run around the lake sometimes, and the first time I went there, it was a little startling to see [Mom's] name. I say ‘Hi' when I go by. Sometimes I stop and sit on the bench. It's a good way to see her.”
“When I go by that bench, sometimes I say 'Hi' in my head. I feel the same things you feel when you visit a cemetery.” Steve added.
But the Shares didn't want to visit the cemetery. Or even drive by. The gravesite is in the front row of Adath-Yeshurun Cemetery along France Avenue.
Ellen explained, “Some of us couldn't even handle driving by the cemetery, so we looked for a spot at the lake.”
“It's more comforting to visit the bench. The lake is about nature. The cemetery is more depressing,” John said.
Marion agreed. “I don't go to the cemetery. If I have a problem, I go to the lake.
I think Alice felt that way, too. Sitting by the lake is much more appropriate.”
Ellen said the Shares are more than willing to share their mom and her bench.
“My mother was the mom whom all of my friends could talk to. They would wander into my kitchen and sit down with my mom. She was a good listener and advisor.
Sitting on her bench is cheaper than therapy.”
So if you see someone sitting on Alice's bench and talking to themselves, don't be alarmed. Therapy is in session.
If you're interested in sponsoring a bench or other park properties, visit www.mplsparkfoundation.org or call 313-7794.