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February 20, 2013
A hundred years young
Olivia Carlson of Westbrook celebrated her 100th birthday on January 22 and still lives in her home by herself
|Olivia Carlson in her home.|
|Tom Merchant photo|
WESTBROOK, Minnesota (STPNS) -- Westbrook — It is becoming more common these days for people to reach the century mark in their lives. But not that many still live alone in their homes and walk down town on a frequent basis to pick up a few groceries or visit the post office.
The beginning of Carlson’s story starts on a farm near Valley City, North Dakota, where she was raised with two brothers and five sisters, fourth from the oldest.
As a youngster she was raised with her brothers and sisters as a typical farm girl. They raised mostly small grains and they had a few cows, pigs, and horses. As she grew up she helped with various chores, but when the Great Depression started her oldest brother left for Wisconsin to get work. “At that time I began to help in the field and with the animals,” she said.
During the height of the depression Carlson decided to pursue a college degree in teaching at Valley City Teachers College. Today it is part of the State College system. She said, “I really never had thought about becoming a teacher, but at that time the only professional careers available were, teaching, nursing or secretary. Since Valley City was so close I decided to go there.”
By today’s standards college tuitions were very cheap at $12.00 a quarter. Despite that, Carlson didn’t have enough money to buy text books, so she did most of her studying at the library. “I didn’t have a single penny to spend,” she mused.
She shared a room with a cousin, at a home in Valley City, where they each paid $5.00 a month rent. When asked how she paid for her college. She said, “between my parents and a sister who was teaching in Montana — they were some how able to scrape up enough money to pay for it. I really don’t know how they were able to do it — times were tough back then.” She thought most of their money came from selling cream and eggs.
After graduating from college she got her first teaching job in a one room school with 8 grades at Napoleon, North Dakota about 50 miles southeast of Bismarck. “I was paid $45.00 a month, and paid $8.00 a month for room and board.
Carlson felt there was a bit of fraud in how she got that first job. Her cousin had signed contracts with two different schools. In the meantime her cousin was injured in a motorcycle accident, and wrote a letter to the Napoleon School Board saying she couldn’t teach right away, but she would send Olivia to take her place. Later when her cousin had recuperated she took the other job and wrote the Napoleon board that she would not be able to come at all. So Olivia was hired permanently.
After teaching there for two years, she decided she would like to see the mountains. She then signed up for a teachers exchange, and on her application she put she would prefer a job in the mountains.
She then accepted a position in a small town in Colorado close to where Vale now is. Her first school was a converted logging bunkhouse cabin, and was an eight grade school. But some of the grades were not represented because there were just a few families in the area.
It was very busy teaching the range of grades, and the kids were pretty much self help, sometimes the older kids would help the younger students. Like most one room schools in those days the teacher not only taught eight grades but also had to take care of janitorial duties. She recalls walking about a quarter mile to a spring along a stream to haul drinking water to the school. “everybody drank from the same dipper — I can’t remember anybody getting sick from it so I guess they were very healthy,” chuckled Carlson.
Then she taught at a school in Conger Mesa near Steamboat Springs. She said, “the only reason I took that job was because they had a piano. But she noted when she told the families at her previous school, they said to her, “if we had known you wanted a piano we would have bought one for you.”
She taught there before moving to a two room school that had all grades and two teachers. She taught first through sixth grade and the other teacher taught junior high and high school for a year.
“I really enjoyed teaching there in the mountains — I even bought a pair of skis and taught myself how to ski, but in the process broke a toe, and had to teach with a ski boot on my foot,” She laughed.
After teaching seven years in Colorado, she decided it was time to move back to North Dakota shortly after World War II broke out.
She wanted to be closer to home so she could help her aging parents on the family farm on weekends and in the summer.
She took a job in Cleveland, North Dakota just a few miles west of Jamestown. There she taught a class of fourth grade students who could not read. After that experience she decided she no longer wanted to teach. She said, ‘if I ever were going to teach it would only be first grade!”
After that she went to Minneapolis to try and get a job through an employment agency. She found herself on the move again as she took a job in Washington D.C. with the U.S. Signal Corps. While there she worked on decoding messages during the war. She said for security reasons none of us knew the entire text of the messages. She noted while she was there president Roosevelt died, but she did not see any of the funeral procession.
After the war ended she left the Signal Corps and returned to North Dakota to help her parents on the family farm.
Towards the end of summer Carlson saw an ad in the Minneapolis newspaper that read: “Wanted first grade teacher to start immediately at Westbrook, Minnesota.” Carlson decided to apply sending her application to the Westbrook School Board.
When they received her application, Superintendent Carl Ingebrigtson, and Board chair Ancil Budolphson drove up to her farm. “They drove out to the field where we were shocking grain. My dad was out threshing — Carl and Ancil actually finished shocking the field,” she said.
She accepted the job and that week she took a bus to Walnut Grove where she was picked up by school janitor, Elmer Spielman.
She taught school for five years, and had known Dr. John Carlson who had been there since 1932.
She said, “the first time he asked me for a date — it took me by surprise — I really didn’t want to go, but I went anyway. But after that date, I found he was such an interesting person, my reservations were put aside.”
That year she resigned her teaching position, and Dr. J.V. proposed to her and they were married July, 19, 1951, and she never taught school again. They were married for 29 years when J.V. passed away. They have one daughter Virginia who comes home for a visit to help Carlson when she needs to go somewhere by auto. She said, “ gave up my driving privilege a couple years ago.”
Carlson walks to church and downtown every week. Until this year she would walk downtown about 5 days a week, but now has cut down to two or three days a week.
She is an avid reader, reading all types of books but enjoys mysteries the most.
She said the biggest thing she notices about her age is her balance and strength are not what they used to be.
When asked about her longevity, she said, “I drink apple cider vinegar mixed with warm water and honey every day, but I don’t know if it helps or not.”
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