Brenda Jean Abari made it her mission that no child ever felt unwanted or alone.
The former teacher’s generosity and love for children extended beyond the classroom, adopting foster kids here in the Twin Cities and sponsoring poverty-stricken children in Africa.
Her husband Dola Abari and family say her humanitarian spirit and her gentle ways with children made everyone around her feel special.
Brenda Jean Abari died Jan. 15 at her Minneapolis home surrounded by family after a brief struggle with stage 4 kidney disease. She was 75.
“She was very quiet and very generous,” Dola said. “She always gave so much love to people and children.”
Abari was born and raised in Texas, and graduated from high school and college there before following her best friend to Minnesota. She earned her master’s degree in special education from Mankato State University in 1989 while living in the Twin Cities.
For nearly four decades, Abari worked as a home economics and special education teacher for various schools in the Minneapolis Public Schools system. When she wasn’t in the classroom teaching, she was tutoring children with learning and behavior problems in their homes.
Abari always wanted to have her own children, but a surgery at age 29 made it impossible.
She turned to adoption agencies to fulfill her dream of becoming a mother. She bought a house in north Minneapolis and, with the help of Lutheran Social Services, adopted then-3-month-old Ashanti Samuels. After several years of raising a child by herself, Abari married Dola, a Nigerian who had a biological daughter from a previous marriage. The Abaris later adopted a five-year-old son through the Hennepin County foster care system.
“Even from the day she got me, she was my mother and she never made me feel like I wasn’t her biological child,” said Samuels, 46. “I’ve never had the desire to seek out my biological family because I didn’t feel like I missed out on anything. She gave me and my siblings a lot of love and attention.”
She also extended love to needy children in Africa, sponsoring several of them through World Vision International, a humanitarian organization. The union between the devoted Christian Baptist and a Muslim man from Africa seemed unconventional at the time. But the pair made it work. For more than 40 years, Dola accompanied his wife to every Sunday service at the Zion Baptist Church in north Minneapolis, and she occasionally joined him at the mosque.
To learn more about her husband’s West African culture, Abari joined the local chapter of an international organization called Nigerwives. The group of women who had Nigerian husbands became friends and traveled together, and supported each other while integrating into a new culture.
Abari was a skilled seamstress who got her start working in the alterations department at the Dayton’s store in downtown Minneapolis in the ’80s. She sewed garments of all sorts when Nigerwives held special functions.
After retiring from teaching, Abari turned her sewing passion into a business, creating curtains as well as wedding and prom dresses in her basement.
“She loved fashion,” Samuels said. “She was a fashionable dresser herself and always wanted to look her best.”
Abari also loved to travel the world and relished every moment with her friends and family, inviting them to her home for meals. Those who knew her say she was stern, but humorous, cracking jokes when it felt appropriate.
Abari was preceded in death by her parents, Trueheart and Samuel Maxie, and her brother Vernon Maxie. In addition to her husband and daughter of Minneapolis, she’s survived by a son, Anthony Abari of the Twin Cities; a daughter, Saidat Vandenberg of Canada; many grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Services have been held.
This content was originally published here.