Posts Categorized: Probits

Bill Beard: Probituary – A Notice of Life!

BillBeard2Interview and Introduction by Jen Johnson and Lor Miller – This probit originally appeared in the “Summer” 2012 issue of Inspire(d).

At the age of 99, William (Bill) Beard still resides on the land where he grew up in Decorah and takes comfort in the home he and a nephew built for his family – wife Betty and daughter Grace. With his wife and all of his siblings now deceased, Bill and his sister-in-law Laura call each other every morning to make sure they made it through the night all right. It’s something he looks forward to, and this daily routine of family taking care of family has always been a part of his life. His grandfather lived with him growing up, along with one of his aunts, so there was always family around. Bill peels his potatoes for dinner, bakes a cake for dessert, and likes to eat it with ice cream every night! He is a sport of a fellow, enjoys watching the birds outside his windows, and is always up for a game of checkers or cards with the kids. Listening about their lives, activities, or jokes, he’s always a dear to tell us some of his memories too.

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Always tell the truth.

And advice you might offer to us?

Keep your head to the game and stay on top of things. (If Bill sees something that needs to be done, he does it! He always had chores to do at home and he feels that kids should have chores to help them learn to take responsibility for things.) Don’t live beyond your means. If you don’t have the money for something, you simply shouldn’t buy it.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I always wanted to be a farmer. My dad and grandfather were both farmers. It was fun to work with the baby animals when they were first born. As a boy, I took care of the sheep. At 2:00 in the morning, I’d get dressed, give them some milk and bring them into the kitchen for the night if it was too cold outside. We’d put wood in the kitchen stove to keep them warm and dry. But they weren’t used to the linoleum floor and they’d fall down! As a farmer, you worked hard and then played hard. (Bill said he used to just dream of Sundays. They would take the day off from farm work and go to church while his mom or Aunt Bess would stay home and cook. After church, they would pack a big picnic and head off to find a good spot by the creek. After eating well, they took off their shoes to play in the creek or just lie down on the grass and enjoy it.)

What did you do?

I was a farmer. We had animals, corn, oats, barley, and hay. You do everything that needs to be done. One of the benefits about being a farmer is directly benefiting from the work you put in. Dreaming of a warm fire in winter was motivation to cut and chop wood, just as pulling a roast out of the freezer for a meal was motivation to care well for the animals you raised. You take care of the animals, and they’ll take care of you. You knew that if you didn’t do the work involved, you would lose out on some of the most enjoyable moments. (We commented to Bill that it sounded like despite all the hard work, his life was good. He smiled and said, “Well, it did have its not so good times as well. But there’s no use dwelling on the bad parts. People have enough troubles as it is, so you need to remember the good parts.” We think this attribute of counting his blessings is a large part of what keeps Bill so happy and healthy.)

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you want with you?

With a chuckle, Bill says with practicality, “Something to drink, a pillow and some covers, and something to eat.” Name one thing you could not live without. (Again, the realist) “water.”

If you could eat anything for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Potatoes and gravy, some kind of hamburger, most any kind of fruit, and for dessert, ice cream.

Tell us about (meeting your wife and) your wedding day…

The pastor at the church had set up a night of games for the single boys and single girls. Betty was a good church woman, and I thought I could probably get along with her. She was a teacher and was due to go back home at the end of the school year. I asked her if she ever thought about marriage, and she said, why yes, she did. The wedding was the first day of September. She lived down in Burlington, and I had driven down the day before. Some of the family had to stay home to do chores, so it was her family plus my mother and father. After the wedding, Betty and I started off on our honeymoon. We were driving around the state and up into Minnesota. We got to Minneapolis and decided that was too big a town for us — we got out quick! So Decorah it remains yet today.

Clifford Julian Smorstad

Clifford Julian Smorstad, age 96 (May 24, 1918 – July 13, 2014) 

C_Smorstad_BW_MillClifford Smorstad was born in rural Decorah in 1918 and grew up near Frankville and then on the family farm in Glenwood township. After attending country schools, he was well known for decades for his portable sawmill and could be seen for many years at the Mabel / Hesper Steam Engine Days sawing timber (Clifford’s son, Dean, has kept the tradition going!). Clifford still has a love for all things Norwegian (and a few polka tunes), as well as his family – especially his grand and great grand children!

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Be to work on time and do the best job you can. As soon as I was old enough, I started helping with chores around the farm. I remember plowing with horses C_Smorstadand sometimes the weather could get cold before we got all of our fieldwork done. Not only did I do chores when younger, I also helped my mother in the kitchen and learned to cook ­– and still love to cook!

What did you want to be when you grew up?

As a little boy I was always fascinated by airplanes – either flying them or being an airplane mechanic, but never took it beyond a dream…

What do/did you do?

I started a business sawing lumber for farmers with a portable sawmill. I felt that as long as the trees grew there’d be a good business in sawing. I usually operated within a 100­ mile radius of Decorah. I used a 75 horsepower tractor to pull the sawmill from farm to farm and to provide power for the sawmill. I really enjoyed sawing lumber and it was even better to see that the lumber was used to repair or build different buildings on the farm. I also had a land improvement business. This involved building ponds, terraces, and waterways, clearing of brush and trees. Also traveling farm to farm, I had the opportunity to enjoy many great meals and meet many great people. My true love is sawing lumber and since I can’t do it anymore I can now enjoy seeing my son, Dean, sawing lumber at Mabel Steam Engine Days and having family be a part of it.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you want with you?

Someone to talk Norwegian with, my sawmill and tractor, polka music and a dance partner!

Try to describe yourself in one sentence.

Hard working Norwegian who loved to dance and have fun.

If you could eat anything every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Potatoes, Ludefisk, and Lefse!

Name one thing you could not live without.

Eyes – being able to look outside or be outside and being able to see my family, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

Tell us about your favorite memory.

When I first started sawing, I bought a stationary sawmill that needed repair, fixed it, and sawed with it. Another great memory is my trip to Norway and Germany with my wife Hazel – seeing the pretty countryside and visiting homesteads.

Margaret Halvorson Stortz


Margaret Halvorson Stortz (passed away at 92 March 21, 2014)

Interviewed by grandson Benji Nichols

Margaret was born in the fall of 1921 and grew up farming in rural Decorah. Through a life that has spanned horses and buggies and speaking Norwegian, she still values family, comfort food, and a bottomless cup of coffee.

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?

My Dad (Hans & Mabel Halvorson) gave me lots of good advice – he was a schoolteacher when he was younger and then farmed. I always liked: “Take what you can eat, and eat everything you take.” We grew up in a time when there wasn’t always much extra.

What do/did you do in life?

Margaret_NowI was a farm wife. We milked cows twice a day and raised four kids – Diane, Beverly, Lauren, and Lowell. I can remember getting up very early from a young age to milk – I was often the first one up in the house.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you want with you?

My coffee pot (ready to brew!), my orange coffee mug, and some good homemade cookies!

If you could eat anything every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Meatballs, mashed potatoes, and Lefse. Maybe a good piece of pumpkin pie too!

Name one thing you could not live without.

My Relatives. I have a good family.

Tell us about… Your wedding day.

Virgil & I were married on May 5, 1946. I didn’t get married until I was 24 as I just really thought I should keep helping on my folks’ farm. We jumped right into our own farming as well.

Your first job.

I can remember doing chores on the farm since I was very young, so that would have been my first job. I graduated from the 8th grade and went right to work, like a lot of folks then. I worked at Barges Café in Decorah when I was young, and also did housework and helped take care of kids. I think I worked for all of the Ronans at one time or another!

Your favorite memory.

There are many. I have great memories from all the time I spent with my sister Ruth. She graduated from 8th grade and left home right away to work for others, so I missed her when I was young. We kept up all through life and enjoyed our visits. I also recall anytime my Dad’s relatives would visit – they only spoke Norwegian and expected we would do the same. When I first went to school I remember trying to speak English and accidentally slipping in Norwegian words and getting laughed. My Dad’s Uncle, Evan “Shorty” Boe also used to own an ice cream parlor in Decorah. When my Uncle Andrew would visit from Chicago he would take us out for ice cream – it was a big deal and the only times we had ice cream as kids.