For over 40 years she told us where to find the best in queer nightlife in metro Detroit, Northern Ohio and Windsor. Mary Sappington, who died Jan. 14 at age 75, was perhaps better known as “Mary Metra,” the founding publisher of Metra magazine, which has been in print for 45 years. Sappington, who died peacefully in her sleep, is being remembered as a hero by the local community.
When Metra announced the news on their Facebook, the comments section quickly started filling up with tributes. “She was a true pioneer and champion for the LGBTQ+ community in southeast Michigan,” said Facebook user Julz Latte Da, who worked for Metra for several years in the mid to late ‘80s. Latte Da said that Sappington’s passing was “heartbreaking.”
Michael Chereton commented on the post that Sappington was “a true and loving staple in the Detroit LGBTQ+ community. … She had a laugh as warm as her huge heart.”
Sappington was born in Cedar City, Missouri on Jan. 5, 1949, but the family moved to Michigan when she was a young child. After graduating from Utica High School, she initially worked as a hairdresser.
Later, as the owner of her own beauty shop, Sappington, quoted in a Wayne State University oral history project from 2018, recalled that she advertised her shop in a fledgling LGBT newspaper because “by the time I was 20, 21 years old, I just knew gay men and we just had a good time.”
That newspaper, Metra Gay News, soon went out of business, and she saw an opportunity. Sappington and her husband, Kenneth Lamparski, with help from some friends, decided to print and publish an entertainment magazine. They put together early issues in the basement of her shop in Romeo. In those days, it was hard to even find a printer who would work with the magazine.
“We never had a porno magazine, but as soon as they saw two men even touching each other or doing anything like that, they were like, ‘We don’t do that,’” Sappington shared in the oral history project.
Starting in the early ‘80s, Sappington and the magazine began producing the Metra picnic, an outdoor affair filled with fun and just a bit of debauchery. The picnic drew large crowds — up to 2,000 people — and was held annually for nearly four decades. When they had trouble finding a spot large enough that would rent it to queer folk, Sappington solved the problem by buying Salt River Park.
Sappington would go on to publish Metra, which she started in 1979, for over 40 years. During that time, she developed quite a reputation for being such a strong ally to the queer community.
Talking about the Metra picnics, Lady T Tempest, who performed at many of them, said, “They were some of the most amazing times of my life. [Mary] always made me feel like a million dollars. Her kindness and respect were unmeasurable. There are no words that could ever express how I feel about her, and how thankful I am that she was and is a part of us.”
Tim McKee, a former manager of nightclubs Menjo’s and the Hayloft, recalled how wild the picnic got, especially in its early years. "Everything you can imagine went on at the picnic," he said. "There was always a big pavilion with tons of entertainment. Anything and everything you can imagine was going on and that’s just the way it was.”
McKee remembered Sappington as a good businesswoman. “She’d rather run a blank page in her magazine than to discount the page,” he said. “She understood that the minute you discount a page, everyone is coming after you for discounts. So she was definitely a solid businesswoman and a nice lady.”
Jan Stevenson, former publisher of Between The Lines, Pride Source's Michigan-based print publication, said much of the same. “I admired her commitment to her work with Metra magazine, and her ability to adjust to an ever-changing business environment. She faced many challenges as a woman who published a magazine primarily serving the gay men’s market,” Stevenson said.
Though she was straight, Sappington was beloved in the queer community. She kept Metra going until the height of the pandemic when the magazine took a hiatus. Eventually, Sappington sold the paper.
“Mary was a joy, and she did a lot of things for the LGBTQ+ community,” said Frankie Wingle, current co-owner and editor-in-chief of Metra. “She was really a trailblazer and ahead of her time.”
Testimonies to Sappington’s enduring allyship have been plentiful after her death.
“Mary, you did good,” said Facebook user Michael Venable. “You made a difference. A really big one. And that is a legacy that we should all strive to achieve in our lifetime.”
Karaoke DJ Karen O’Brien called Sappington “an inspiration and a support system to all of us."
"Nothing I can say is enough to describe the impact she had on me," she added, "and every life she touched.”
Services have been held. Donations may be made in Sappington’s name to St. Jude’s Children's Research Hospital.