Lasting Memories

Mary Jean Place
March 30, 1928-Feb. 9, 2017
Portola Valley, California

Submitted by Nicola Place

Mary Jean Place passed away peacefully at her home in The Sequoias in Portola Valley, California, on Thursday, February 9, 2017. Mary Jean had courageously battled Pulmonary Fibrosis for more than ten years.

She was born Mary Jean Simpson in Saint Paul, Minnesota, on March 30, 1928, to Lillian and Harry Simpson. Mary Jean and her younger sister Patricia grew up on Livingston Avenue in South Saint Paul. After graduating from South Saint Paul High School in 1946, she earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy and a master's degree in library science from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

In 1951 Mary Jean became a librarian for the U.S. Army in Stuttgart, Germany, setting up libraries for military families. While in Germany, she met her first husband, Virgil A. Place, a doctor with the 7th Army. They married in 1952, in Ludwigsburg Palace, Southern Germany. They returned to Rochester, Minnesota, and Mary Jean went to work at the Mayo Clinic Library, became active in the League of Women Voters and had their first daughter, Tamara. In 1955, they moved to Modesto, California, where Mary Jean helped found the Modesto Symphony and volunteered at the Medical Library and gave birth to second daughter, Andrea.

In 1958, they moved to New Jersey. and Mary Jean continued her public service work, serving on the state board of the League of Women Voters and on the board of the Experiment in International Living, and hosting exchange students from Iran. She also worked on the Children’s Art Program at MOMA in New York and welcomed third daughter, Nicola.

In 1966, they moved to Palo Alto, California. Mary Jean and Virgil’s marriage ended in 1976, and she married Frank Scheufele in 1983, a union which continued until 2012.

Mary Jean’s personal and professional passions were cultural: art, libraries and music. Her love of art led her to work for Los Robles Gallery and later establish the Place/Allrich Gallery in San Francisco. Ultimately, she became an independent Fine Art Consultant enabling many corporations and art enthusiasts, including herself, to establish superb art collections.

Besides her love for her family, Mary Jean wanted to be remembered most for her public service. During her 45 years living in Palo Alto, Mary Jean actively contributed to her community through extensive service to libraries, arts and other cultural endeavors. She served on the Palo Alto Visual Arts Commission, on the board of La Comida (at Avenidas) and was President of the Friends of The Library. She established the Palo Alto Library Commission, the Palo Alto Library Foundation and was appointed to the California Commission for Library Trustees. At The Sequoias, Mary Jean founded the Great Decisions Educational Group and served as chair of the Education Committee and of the Birthday Committee.

While her given name was Mary Jean, she became better known to many as simply “M.J.” Life with M.J. was a constant whirl of visiting friends, old and new, from around the U.S. and the world. She had incredible creative abilities and talents in entertaining. She also hosted a series of boarders from many different countries: graduate students, visiting professors, and friends of friends, all of whom became lifelong family members “by affection”. Over the many years at her Palo Alto home, countless people participated in the hundreds of dinners and parties she prepared and hosted. For those lucky enough to attend a dinner, she offered this pre-meal blessing: “May the mandala of life that encircles us all bring us peace, joy, and happiness.”

M.J. also had a passion for travel. She visited many different countries, including Iran, China, New Zealand, England, Sweden, France, Germany, Canada and Mexico, to name a few. In her 70’s, she spent two years living in Saint Germaine-En-Lay, France, just outside of Paris, where her love of berets began. In her 80’s she moved to Arkansas for a year, following her passions for family, being near Andrea, and for art, spending many a day at the newly opened Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Mary Jean is preceded in death by her parents, Lillian and Harry Simpson of Anoka, Minnesota, her sister Patricia May Simpson Erickson of Duluth, Minnesota, and her first husband Virgil Place of Hawaii.

Mary Jean is survived by her three daughters and their spouses, Tamara and Jeff Hutten of Kila, Montana; Andrea Place Fournet and David Fournet of Fayetteville, Arkansas; and Nicola Place and Chris Beeson of Diablo, California; three granddaughters: Vanessa Ross, Danielle Battee, Adele Fournet; and one great-grandson, Parker Ross. She is survived by her second husband Frank Scheufele, and her five stepchildren and their spouses: Susan Scheufele and Greg Smith, Carol Scheufele, Robin and Chris Apple, Chris and Terri Scheufele, Peter and Reba Scheufele; four step-grandchildren: Annemarie and Spencer Apple, Gregory Scheufele, and Nina Scheufele.

A service to honor and celebrate Mary Jean’s extraordinary life will be held on Thursday, March 30, 2017, at 1:00 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, 505 E. Charleston Road, Palo Alto, California, 94306. For information, contact

In lieu of flowers, Mary Jean asked that you consider making a donation to Autism Speaks, Friends of the Palo Alto Library, or Mission Hospice of San Mateo.