Mavis Hiltunen Biesanz was born July 27, 1919, to Finnish-U.S. parents in VermilionTownship, a farm community settled mostly by Finnish immigrants near Tower, Minnesota, on LakeVermilion.
She graduated from EmbarrassHigh School in 1936 and attended Winona State College in Winona,Minnesota, before transferring to the University of Iowa. In June 1940, she graduated Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude. Three months after graduation, she married John Biesanz, a professor of sociology.
She and John lived and traveled in many countries while researching and writing several sociological books. They came to Costa Rica on their honeymoon in 1941 and wrote the classic book, “Costa Rican Life.” They loved the country so much that they retired here permanently in 1971.
Mavis wrote many books. She co-authored “The Costa Ricans” and “The Ticos”with her son, Richard, and his wife, Karen. In her later years she wrote “Helmi Mavis: A Finnish American Girlhood,” which was a memoir of her childhood on her parent’s farm in Minnesota. Her last book, “Un Año con Carmen” was published by the StateUniversity at a Distance (UNED) editorial division in December. It contained original fiction and poems that she wrote and translated in English and Spanish.
Her eldest son Richard is now a professor of sociology at CorningCommunity College in Corning, New York. Second son Barry is an internationally recognized fine woodworker living in the western San José suburb of Escazú. Daughter Katja is a professional modern dancer, choreographer and therapist in Portland, Oregon. Mavis also had five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Mavis was a fixture in the Women’s Book Club, an avid Scrabble player and a devoted philanthropist who helped many students achieve their educational dreams.
Mavis passed away peacefully Feb. 21 at the age of 88, at CIMAHospital in Escazú, surrounded by her children and grandchildren.