The Golden Girl, Mary Jane (Van Duyse) Sorgel, 89, of Sturgeon Bay, died Saturday afternoon, July 30, 2022 at Anna’s Healthcare CBRF in Sturgeon Bay.
Mary was born on December 29, 1932 in Sturgeon Bay to Frances Lewis Van Duyse and Gertrude Josephine (Simon) Van Duyse. She attended Sevastopol School, and it was an easy walk to get there as her parents owned and operated Vans Tavern (now the Institute Saloon), and the Van Duyse family lived upstairs. Mary graduated from Sevastopol High School in 1951.
In 1949 while still in school, Mary Jane first began to give twirling and dance lessons. Mary taught tap, ballet, acrobatics, ballroom dance, and baton twirling. Over time, she had studios in Sturgeon Bay, Luxemburg, Brussels, and Algoma and was proud to teach multiple generations of families. Mary continued teaching at her dance studios until 1972 when she married and retired. She continued teaching informally all her adult life. Mary Jane was honored by the Wisconsin Dance Council with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007. Teaching was her greatest joy.
Mary earned many awards and accomplished so very much in life. Mary Jane was named the Door County Cherry Blossom Queen in 1952. She also was the face of Florida Tourism ads and movies in the 1950’s.
Mary won the Wisconsin State championships for baton twirling in 1951 and 1953. She won the National Baton Twirling Championship in 1954. Mary was a lifetime member of the National Baton Twirling Association. She was inducted into their Hall of Fame in 2006.
At the urging of Wilner Burke, the leader of the Packer Lumberjack Band, Mary Jane auditioned in 1949 to join the Packerettes of the Packer Lumberjack Band. She was the Packer drum majorette from 1951 to 1966. She was named “Miss Majorette of America” in 1953 and in 1956 was named the world’s most famous drum majorette.
Mary Jane was given the “Golden Girl” title in 1959 by the Chicago Tribune. This quickly caught on in the Green Bay area. Coach Lombardi believed that the Packers needed a cheerleading squad and asked Mary to get it organized. She formed the Green Bay Packer Golden Girls which she led from 1961 to 1972. One of her most memorable half time performances was during the Ice Bowl. A display feature of her was placed in the Packer Hall of Fame in 1976. Mary Jane’s Golden Girl career was featured in a 2017 episode of “NFL Films Presents”. Mary Jane and the Golden Girls were honored with a special exhibit in the Door County Historical Museum in September, 2019.
For a while, Mary Jane worked for two competing TV networks in Green Bay at the same time. She was “The Weather Girl” on channel 11’s nightly news. She also served as Curly Lambeau’s on-air assistant on the “Ask Curly Lambeau” show on channel 5 for many years. She and Curly were very close and he passed away at her parents’ home in Sturgeon Bay.
Mary Jane did a great deal of charity work. She participated in many telethons in Marquette, MI, and in Green Bay, and lead hundreds of parades. For many years, Mary lead the annual New Year Parade in Egg Harbor. She and the Golden Girls participated in the 50th Annual Cerebral Palsy Telethon in Mary attended many Green and Gold Galas, sponsored by the Our Lady of Charity Guild, each time organizing the attendance of many Golden Girls. She also performed for patients at the Door County Memorial Hospital Skilled Nursing Facility.
Mary Jane appeared twice on David Letterman’s “Stupid Pet Tricks” including an anniversary show where she twirled live in an airplane at 25,000 feet with her pet dog Muffy sitting up on her head (which landed her in the Guinness Book of World Records, 1996 edition). She also appeared on the “Sally Jesse Raphael Show” and on Animal Planet’s “Pet Star” with Mario Lopez. In 1989, Mary was featured as a question on “Jeopardy”.
Mary Jane married William “Bill” J. Sorgel in June, 1972, and lived what she called “a great love story” for the next 34 years. They were a glamorous couple. Bill and Mary traveled seasonally between Key Biscayne, FL, and Ephraim, WI. They enjoyed several sports together, including scuba diving, fishing, and cross-country skiing. They also performed a singing and twirling dog act for friends and a number of local charities. In later years, Bill had a
number of health issues, and Mary devoted her life to taking care of him. This didn’t stop them and their pet Yorkies from continuing their seasonal traveling.
In her later years, Mary was fortunate to reconnect with her childhood friend, Jack Champeau, who remained a dear and supportive friend until his passing in 2018.
Mary Jane was preceded in death by her parents; husband, William “Bill” Sorgel; siblings-in-law, Robert (Janet) Van Duyse and Frances “Fritz” and Dorothy Van Duyse; many aunts and uncles; and cousins.
Mary Jane is survived by nieces, Susan (Eugene) Heimbecher, Rebecca (Thomas) Lam, Sarah Van Duyse, Barbara Van Duyse, Roberta Van Duyse, Alison (Nick) Walker, and nephew, Frank (Veronica) Van Duyse. She is further survived by Bill’s sons and their wives, Dave (Colette) Sorgel and Ric (Linda) Sorgel, 10 great-nieces and great-nephews; and her great-great-niece, Ashlyn Rasmussen whom she adored.
Mary was one of the kindest souls you could ever meet. She had a smile for everyone and never had an unkind word to say. She was always the life of the party and had so very many dear friends.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be given in Mary Jane’s name to St. Joseph Parish (office at 526 Louisiana St., Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235) where she was a lifelong member or the Wisconsin Humane Society-Door County Campus (3475 Park Dr., Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235) in honor of her beloved Yorkies.
The family would like to thank Anna’s Angels and all of her caregivers over the years. She loved you all, and we are grateful for the love you had for her.
Mary Jane’s life will be honored with a Mass of Christian Burial celebrated at 11:45 a.m. on Friday, August 5, 2022 at St. Joseph Catholic Church, 110 N. 5th Ave., Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235 with Fr. Robert Stegmann as celebrant. She will be laid to rest beside her husband, Bill, in St. Joseph Cemetery in the Town of Sevastopol.
Visitation for family and friends will be held at Huehns Funeral Home, 1414 Michigan St., Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235 on Thursday, August 4, 2022 from 4:00 p.m. until the closing parish wake service at 7:00 p.m. (Within the wake service liturgy will be a time for sharing of memories. Those who have special remembrances from Mary Jane’s life are welcome to share those at that time.)
Visitation will continue at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Friday morning, from 10:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m.
The parish wake service at the funeral home on Thursday evening will be livestreamed at 7:00 p.m. via the “Huehns Funeral Home, Inc. & Door County Crematory LLC” Facebook page (www.facebook.com/HuehnsFuneralHome). The funeral Mass at the church on Friday will be recorded (non- live) and eventually uploaded to the funeral home Facebook page.
Expressions of sympathy, memories, and photos of Mary Jane may be shared with her family through her tribute page at www.huehnsfuneralhome.com.
We will all truly miss our Golden Girl. Go Pack Go!