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Worth Knowing: Rochester socialite and dance instructor lived a dramatic, beautiful life

Jean Dain Waters filled her 100 years with song, dance, theater and games. She died Friday, June 11, 2021.

'Fitnastics' finds ryhthm on ballroom floor
Jean Dain Waters, leads a Fitnastics class at Rochester's Plummer House ballroom in this 2012 photo. Waters had taught the classes since 1975, encouraging adults to get in shape or stay in shape using fluid, graceful movement combining dance, yoga and Pilates. Waters died June 11, 2021, at age 100. (Forum News Service file photo)
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Editor's note: Each week reporter Matthew Guerry shares the life stories of residents of Minnesota or the Dakotas who have died recently. Maybe you don't know them, but their stories are worth knowing. If you have a suggestion for someone to be featured, email or call 651-321-4314.

Up until the day she died, Jean Dain Waters loved to play backgammon.

She and her husband played it all their married lives, according to family members, and the couple often had friends over to play as well. In hospice, she would set up the board on her bed to play against daughter Dain Waters.

Though her mother's short-term memory hadn't been what it used to be, Waters said her backgammon skills remained sharp.

"It was amazing. It points out to the efficacy, I think, of the old-fashioned rote-and-memory learning," she said.


Jean Dain Waters had no difficulty remembering Shakespeare, either. The words to her favorite Cole Porter and Frank Sinatra songs came just as easy, and figured among many other hard-to-forget things about her life.

Waters, of Rochester, Minn., died Friday, June 11, 2021, at the age of 100 .

Jean Dain Waters.jpg
Jean Dain Waters

Born in St. Paul, Waters received a private school education, first at the Northrop Collegiate School in Minneapolis — part of the Blake School — and later at Rosemary Hall in Connecticut and Bennet Junior College in Millbrook, N.Y. During World War II, she worked for the Red Cross in Washington, D.C., and returned to Minnesota after marrying fellow Blake School graduate George Franklin Waters, also of Minneapolis, in 1946.

The couple moved to Rochester, where they raised three daughters.

Waters became known for her eccentricities and outgoing nature. She once spotted Ernest Hemingway and his wife Mary walking down the street and tried to invite them over for a drink, according to family lore, but the couple declined. (Hemingway was in the midst of treatment for depression at the Mayo Clinic.)

On a trip to Boston, Waters was denied entry to the Ritz-Carlton restaurant for wearing a pantsuit, which went against the dress code. She returned in a nightgown and was seated.


"She was incredibly dramatic," daughter Annie Waters said.


In addition to singing, and playing guitar and piano, Waters loved to dance. She was a founding member of the Seraphim III liturgical dance group at Calvary Episcopal Church, where she also helped direct the children's choir. From 1975 on she taught a dance-fitness course out of the historic Plummer House in Rochester.
Called "Fitnastics," Waters' classes combined elements of dance, yoga and Pilates.

"It capitalizes on lyrical, rhythmic motion rather than fast percussive movement yet still meets current aerobic guidelines,’’ she told the Rochester Post Bulletin in a 2009 story.

Waters' flair for the dramatic was also evidenced by her many performances in Rochester Civic Theatre productions including "Kiss Me Kate," "Lion in Winter" and "Mame." She also sat on the boards of the Minnesota Mental Health Association and the National Hypertension Association, according to her obituary.

Waters died of what family said were natural causes after leading a "beautiful life."

Waters is survived by her daughters and grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her husband in 2015 after nearly 70 years of marriage.

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