Posts Categorized: Probits

Sylvester Carolan


Interview by Joanie Rollins (daughter of Sylvester) and Benji Nichols. Sylvester Carolan, age 105, claims his faith, his family, a good game of Euchre, and the occasional harmonica tune make for a long happy life.

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Pray hard, and go to church! My parents taught me that.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a farmer from the time I was a kid, and I did farm my entire life. We used to milk and then later I got into feeding beef cattle and hogs. This is a tough winter but I remember worse like 1929, and 1936 – it started late but lasted until March. It makes for tough farming.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you want with you?
Row boat, an oar, or a helicopter!  (ed. We think Sylvester may also be happy with a deck of cards, a bible, and fresh oysters…)

Try to describe yourself in one sentence.
Although too humble to answer this question himself, a nurse who popped in during our interview said of Sylvester, “I’d call him simply wonderful!”

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

I love a good steak – and oysters too, but I wouldn’t want anything every day of my life. I remember when I was young my Mom used to make soup – beef stew, with vegetables. That was pretty good. Sometimes when I was young on Sundays after dinner we’d get to have some home canned peaches – that was a pretty big deal.

Name one thing you could not live without.
Good exercise, good eats, and good family. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my family.

Multiple choice: tell us about…Your wedding day.
I was married on July 12, 1938 to Vivian Gossman. It was a hot summer day and we were married at St. Benedict’s in Decorah. Afterwards we went to the Green Parrot for dinner and then took a car ride down to the Mississippi River.

Your first job.
I started farming when I was young and then went to work for others. Times were really tough then and nobody had any money, but I found work on a farm – I made $22 and a half a month.

Your favorite memory.
I remember my first car – a 1929 Ford – it cost me about $12 a month to buy in 1935 and I paid it all off in a year. I also remember my first tractor, a 1944 Ford Fergusson. Our first home didn’t have a phone, well, it had a line to the place, but it went south from there to Spillville and everyone spoke Bohemian so there was no point in having it!

We also traveled to several places including Ireland, the Holy Land, and the Panama Canal. Those were fun trips.

Born on June 20, 1909 in Canoe Township near Decorah, Sylvester was one of 11 siblings, and began a career in farming early in life. After marrying Vivian Gossman in 1938, the Carolans had six children: Vernelle, Patrick, Kathleen, Gretchen, Dean, and Joan. Their family farmed in various places throughout rural Decorah including their farm just north of town near Coldwater creek. Sylvester is now a resident of the Barthell Order of the Eastern Star home in Decorah and turned 105 today! Drop him a line at the following address or stop by for a game of cards!

Sylvester T. Carolan
C/O Eastern Star Nursing Home
911 Ridgewood Drive
Decorah, IA  52101


Interview and foreword by Karen Kerndt

I met Mary Henry in 1988 when I started working with Winneshiek County Public Health. She has been a wonderful co-worker and friend ever since. At the time I met Mary she was working as a home care aide, taking care of clients who were younger than her! The funny thing about this was that Mary had to have a physical signed by an MD every year to make sure she was in good enough health to work. She retired when she was 77. Since that time Mary has been very busy helping family, friends and her neighbors where she lives. Mary is now 92, still active, drives daily, cooks daily, and makes Sunday dinner for several of her neighbors in her apartment complex – every Sunday!

What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?
My mother told me when I married Jim, “You can’t come back.” Mary laughs and told me she knew she had to stick with him.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
A nurse

What did you do?
I was born on a farm near Jackson Junction and graduated from Waucoma high school in 1936. I married Jim Henry in 1938 and raised four children – two boys and two girls. I went back to school to be a nurse, a LPN in 1970, and worked at Aase Haugen and then Winneshiek Public Health until I retired in 1977. I still go out daily and to church three to four times per week. I enjoy helping others.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you want with you?
My family picture (with her husband and her four children), my Rosary, and of course my medicine! (Spoken like a true nurse).

Try to describe yourself in one sentence:
“Old,” she laughs, “but I have a good attitude and I’m happy!”

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

Name one thing that you could not live without?

Tell us about your wedding day:
“I wore a blue dress, my Aunt was my maid of honor and she wore a pink dress. We had flowers in our hair. We were married at St. Mary’s in Waucoma at 9 am by Father Falin. My mom served a brunch for about 30 people – close family and friends. That night we had a wedding dance at Breezy Corners and lots of people attended. Our honeymoon was in a motel in Waukon, we wanted to go to La Crosse but we were too tired to drive so we stayed there. We did spend a week in Wisconsin, but came back to this little hotel in La Crosse every night.

What is your favorite memory:
“I have so many,” but she does tell me, “When we picked up our four children (Mary and Jim adopted their four kids). I can still remember how happy we were and how glad we were to have them. We were only supposed to go and see them, and I always took them home the same day.”


Gale Ludeking, 84, is an army veteran with a lot of great tales and a great memory to store them!

Interview and foreword by Ron Henning (Aryn’s dad)

I volunteer to drive the VA van to Iowa City and back on a fairly regular basis, and I meet and talk to a lot of wonderful veterans in the process. So when my daughter, Aryn, asked if I wanted to interview one of them for Inspire(d), I said, “Yes, I’d love to.” I was impressed with Gale – he has a very good memory and is interesting to talk to. He seems like a content guy, and has a lot of good life stories that he’ll talk to you about if you ask.

What the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Don’t run up big debts.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a good farmer/cattle man.

What did you do?
I was born in Waukon and was raised on a farm in the Frankville area until 1943, when I joined the army. I had basic training at Camp Dodge in Des Moines and after was sent to the Philippines. Later I was a part of the Occupational Forces of Japan. When I returned home in 1946, I became a buyer for Oscar Meyer Meat Packing in Viola, Wisconsin. They wanted me to move to Illinois, but my wife didn’t want to, so I began working for Fairbanks Morris building locomotives until 1954, when I bought a farm in Iowa. I raised tobacco and milked – after a fire in 1964, I switched to tobacco and sheep, then started also selling Mormon’s Feed, and finally I went full-time raising beef, hogs, and grain. I retired in 1992 and moved back to Waukon.

What meant the most to you as a veteran?
I helped save the country in a time of need, and am now a lifetime member of the VFW. We were welcomed home as heroes.

What was the worst thing about being a veteran?
Losing friends and seeing what you see.

If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you want with you?
Water, food, and books.

Try to describe yourself in one sentence.
Happy and content with what I have.

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

Name one thing you could not live without.
A warm house.

Tell us about…your wedding day.
We had been going together for quite awhile, so we decided to get married over a long weekend. We couldn’t get married in the church because it was such short notice.

I married Helen over the Christmas holiday vacation in 1948  – it was New Year’s Eve and a long weekend and they were visiting their families. Our parents came and we got married at East Salem Church Parsonage with a small party at my parents’ house, then we went back to Wisconsin to live. (the same church Ron’s parents and grandparents attended).

Tell us about…your favorite memory.
When I was about 7 or 8 years old, my grandpa gave me a pony – which was a pretty big deal for someone my age to get. It was an older horse, but I just really loved to ride it!