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Marilyn Hagerty: Sharing the past and present with Iris Westman

Iris Westman shows a sash to her kimono that was given to her by her parents in Northwood, ND on Wednesday, August 24, 2016. (Joshua Komer/Grand Forks Herald)1 / 2
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Iris Westman doesn't pay much attention to news about President Trump. But she thinks it would be well if he could pay off the national debt.

Actually, she says, she really liked Eleanor Roosevelt. "She was a wonderful lady."

We talked about the days that are and those that have gone during a visit on Sunday afternoon. She lives in a room at the Deaconess Health Center in nearby Northwood, N.D. It is her world now that she is approaching her 113th birthday on Aug. 28.

Although statistics constantly change, she is believed to be the oldest person in this area. About age and records, she neither knows nor cares.

Still, she is rich in memories. Such as the days of the Ford Model A. And when it came out, her family on a farm near Aneta, N.D., got one of them in 1929.

"It was our first enclosed car," she said as we visited on Sunday afternoon. "It was a good car. We had a Dodge before."

Iris grew up on the farm playing games such as hide and go seek, pump-pump-pull away and Annie Annie Over. She never played marbles.

"But the boys did," she remembers with a nod of her head.

"We had chicken for dinner on Sunday if we had company," she said. "I think I was 10 years old before we had store-bought bread. I thought it made awfully nice toast."

Family

Iris grew up with three brothers. Two sisters died in early childhood. Her father, Nicholas — or "Ole" — was from Litchfield, Minn. Her mother, Matilda Erickson Westman, was born in Norway.

Iris Westman is an attractive woman with a pleasing smile. She sits in her comfortable chair as she visits. She has her walker nearby. She calls it her friend. On Sundays, she goes to services at the nursing home. Sometimes she joins in bingo games although she has trouble seeing. She has a grand niece, Jane Lukens, who lives on a farm near Aneta, N.D., and is her legal guardian.

Study of Latin

Iris always loved to read. She studied Latin in high school. She says it helped her in other studies.

She graduated from UND in 1928. She later earned a degree in library science at the University of Minnesota. She had a long teaching career with some years back home in Aneta. Before retiring in 1972 she was a librarian in Worthington, Minn.

Now, in her room in Northwood, she looks back on travels to Norway. And to singing in the First Lutheran Church choir in Worthington.

During the Great Depression years of the 1930s, Iris Westman moved home for a while. She remembers helping her mom move into Aneta after the death of her father. And she taught there for a while.

These days, she has a pleasant outlook on life. She is alert and well spoken. Though she can't see well, she manages a keen vision of the changing times.

She would like to live independently, but she is grateful for those who take care and help her. Her world is not limited to her small room. It is wide and rich in memories.

Reach Marilyn Hagerty at mhagerty@gra.midco.net or by telephone at (701) 772-1055.

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