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Mary Cleveland dies at 103, remembered as ‘driving force for education’
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Coco Cleveland, 2, speaks with her great-grandmother Mary Cleveland, 101, before a dedication ceremony July 3, 2015, at the Brenau Downtown Center in Gainesville. The lobby was named in memory of Ralph W. Cleveland and in honor of Mary R. Cleveland. Mary Cleveland died Tuesday at age 103. - photo by Erin O. Smith

It’s hard to put a price on the leadership of Mary Cleveland, the woman considered a “driving force for education” in Gainesville, Brenau University President Ed Schrader said.

“She felt like you could make the community better by educating it, and essentially the community could bring itself up by educating it so everyone could do better,” Schrader said.

Cleveland, 103, died Tuesday. She was a noted philanthropist, particularly in the field of education.

“She and her husband Ralph for all their lives were dedicated to giving back to the community,” Schrader said.

Ralph Cleveland was a trustee of Brenau University, and the pair was involved in the founding task force behind the former Gainesville State College. It later became the University of North Georgia.

In 2015, Mary Cleveland was presented with the Mary Mildred Sullivan Award from Brenau, which is the highest non-academic honor recognizing a “lifetime achievement in civic and community service,” Schrader said.

Lorry Schrage, who has known son John Cleveland since childhood, said he remembered Mary Cleveland as a woman who loved people and was dedicated to her family.

“I can’t remember any time when I saw her that she wasn’t smiling. It was a great smile, and I can’t imagine anything but that when I think about her,” he said.

At the same time as the award, the Cleveland family gave a monetary gift to Brenau that put the school over the top to equip the physical therapy school labs.

Schrader said there are now 120 doctoral students in the program.

“There’s no way to say any of that happens if you pull Mary Cleveland out of it,” Schrader said.