Posts Categorized: Probits

Probituary, A Notice of Life: Phyllis Green

phyllis-greenPhyllis Green, interviewed by daughter Pat Beck

People around Decorah know Phyllis Green as a bridge player, club member, cookie baker, reliable volunteer, teacher and loyal friend. These qualities, plus a cheerful outlook, and a pragmatic can-do attitude have had a positive effect on people who have known her over eight decades. Phyllis was born August 16, 1928, and grew up on the Erickson family farm near Burr Oak. Though it was during the Great Depression, her life was rich with farm activities, 4-H, church, a sister, cousins, chores, and her pets. She learned the rewards of hard work, of challenging herself, of true love, and of giving.

phyllis_siblingsPhyllis lived in Decorah during her high school years because there were no school buses. She made this big transition shortly after she turned 13; she shared a room with people she didn’t know, cooked for herself, and was introduced to running water and electricity. Decorah High School offered High School Normal Training to prepare teachers for country schools. Phyllis’s long teaching career led to recognition as Scott County Teacher Award, North Scott Community Arts Patron, Iowa Social Studies Teacher of the Year, University of Iowa Distinguished Teacher Award, and The 51st Point of Light given by President Bush.

What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I am rather averse to advice. I learn by example. My mother taught me to try new things because that’s how you learn if you can do them or not.

What is the worst advice anyone ever gave you?

Since this is not a part of my thinking, I usually count on my own ideas – sometimes good and sometimes questionable. Isn’t that how you learn?

What did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was in second grade, my teacher showed me the love and understanding that touched and impressed me. It was in second grade that I set my goal to become a teacher.

When I finished high school, I taught two years in a country school. Then I married K. Ted Green, my life partner. We have five beautiful children. When they were all in school, I started college and completed my degree at Upper Iowa University. Because of Ted’s job with Oscar Mayer, we moved to the Quad Cities. I taught at North Scott Schools for 25 years. Living just 50 miles from The University of Iowa was incentive to continue my education. I completed my MA in two areas and was accepted in the doctoral program. Ted knew I wanted to further my education and he made this dream a reality by his complete support, encouragement, and understanding. These were the building blocks that made my dreams come true. I’ve always been curious about people and places. Ted and I enjoyed foreign travel so this was a part of our yearly plan.

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

I’d want lots of pictures of our family – children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, a good book, paper and a pencil, and a Hershey Bar. I know that is more than three things, but I usually get what I want.

Try to describe yourself in one sentence.

I am a hard worker, an honored wife, a loved mom, grandma, and great-grandma.

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

A Hershey chocolate bar.

Name one thing you could not live without.

I need a pencil and paper to record my feelings, my wishes, my poetry, my dreams, my stories, my ideas, and to communicate with family and friends – but if I can really have only ONE thing, it would be my family.

phyllis_ted_weddingTell us about your favorite memory.

I will never forget meeting Ted. I was at the county fair when a friend introduced us. He was the county boys’ 4-H president and I was the county girls’ 4-H president but we had never met. I finished high school, taught two years and Ted went to Madison to start his career.

Our wedding day started 63 years of “favorite memories.” We were married at Upper Lutheran Church and had our wedding reception at the Winneshiek Hotel.  We were blessed with four sons and one daughter. Each birth, baptism, confirmation, graduation, wedding have added to our favorite memories.

Also our 60th wedding party, planned by our children, was also held at the Hotel Winneshiek. I have so much to be grateful for!

green_family2016

Probituary, A Notice of Life: Ernest “Pokey Pete” Peterson!

PokeypostcardErnest “Pokey Pete” Peterson was born in the spring of 1925 in Cedar Falls, IA. He grew up on a farm just outside of Osage where milking and chores took the place of extra curricular activities, but also accounted for a strong family life and respect for hard work. He joined the US Navy on Thanksgiving Day 1943 and from an early age figured out that he didn’t personally need much money, especially when it could be better used helping children and those in need. In August of 1968 Ernest paid off his bills and bought the best riding lawn mower he could find, a Massy Fergeson, as it would need to be red to be the locomotive of his train. Two wooden cars – a “coal car” and a caboose were built in his basement that winter, and moved up in the spring so that a fun, new attraction could be presented at the many rural town festivals across eastern Iowa. And of course it would raise money for charities.

Ernest knew his operation needed to run entirely non-profit – “morally non-profit” as he says – from covering his own expenses, to sharing the proceeds with those in need with no judgment or concern. All of his proceeds, including much of his janitor’s salary, an incredible sum nearing $400,000 total over three decades went to charities such as the Salvation Army, Ronald McDonald house of Iowa City, private individuals in need, and more. He also rang bells for the Salvation Army in Cedar Falls – complete with his railroad engineer’s outfit on, for 35 years.

Pokey Pete, aka “Troll’s Trolley” was (and still is) an institution at Decorah’s Nordic Fest, where he donated his train to the Decorah Lion’s Club in 1989. You can read more about Mr. Peterson’s incredible contributions in the new book by Dawn Svenson Holland entitled “Nordic Fest: 50 Years Strong”.

PokeyPete_Letter_4_2016

1) What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Take your own advice! Actually, my parents didn’t do a lot of talking, but they sure set by example.

2) What did you want to be when you grew up?

I didn’t know there was another job other than farming – my brothers and I milked 25 holsteins – an hour and a half every morning and every night. There wasn’t time for the other activities, and I didn’t get exposed to the problems that people have today.

3) What did you do?

I came back in ‘45 and just looked for a job – whatever was available. A short time at the Rath packing plant, and then at that time in the 50’s we had 9 dairies bottling and delivering milk to homes. I thought the dairies would go on forever – Carnation and Walnut. So I worked there, but as of about 1970 there wasn’t a milk bottler in Cedar Falls. I got to sanding floors for 10 years after that – I just took what was available at the time. And then I became the school house janitor at Orchard Hills school in Cedar Falls for 16 years. The school job allowed me to take my vacation days off to drive the train.

4) If you were stranded on a desert island, what 3 things would you want?

Hahaha, well it ain’t ever gonna’ happen! Well, look around your home. Who needs all this stuff? Not me – we could all get by with a lot less.

5) Try to describe yourself in one or two sentences:

I was just a carnie operator doing my job, if you want to call it that. I’m awful proud I did it (the train) and made all the decisions myself. And you need to do what you believe.

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

I don’t eat to eat. The hunger to over eat is pitiful.  You learn that on the farm too – you work to eat, and eat to work, and exist. I can live without food now almost – I’m 91. I have my 2 slices of toast, but I don’t ever expect too many tomorrows at my age.

7) Name one thing you could not live without:

We all need a dream, and you have to get to living that dream.

8) Tell us about…

Your Wedding Day:
I was married in 1947, for ten years – but things didn’t work out. We didn’t see the same way about money. Then there was a nice young lady that lived near my folks – Juanita and I got married in 1958. She had been through a tough marriage as well – we both had our challenges, but those 2 negatives made a positive. The only job she travelled with me on each year was to Nordic Fest, as it was more than one day. She ran the “Station”, and Gary Svenson always had someone lined up that we could stay with. That was the only job she came with me on each year.

PokeyPete_BJPic_1978

Your favorite memory:

There are many, but the times when I would help a toddler get up on the train engine and walk them in a circle letting them drive. Parents, and kids, loved that – taking pictures, their little darling was the engineer. I did too. I gave the train away in ‘89 (to the Decorah Lions Club), one of my biggest helpers telling that story was Paul Harvey. I gave away the rest of my money on my 90th birthday, just before I came to the Western home. What I did, you know, I wasn’t Mickey Mouse or Super Man – I’m just a human. Its time we all get back to doing more human things. ——————–

PokeyPeteSelfie

Benji Nichols can remember riding on the Pokey Pete (or “Trolls Trolley”) train from a very young age. Getting to interview Ernest for this article and realize the magnitude of his extreme generosity have been a major highlight for Inspire(d).

PokeyPete_BenjiPic_1989

Probituary: A Notice of Life! Jim Schaffer

Jim Schaffer, born July 14, 1934 on the family farm in Iowa, on what was one of the hottest days of that century. Interviewed by friend Gayle  Nielsen

Some people are just so interesting that you NEED to let others know. Jim Schaffer is one of those people. We first met Jim and his wife, Judy, when they became our neighbors, moving into the house across the road from us from when their son, Ed and his wife Vickie moved to the next house down the road. It was so nice being included in the family gatherings and getting to know everyone.

One of the things that people notice about Jim is that he never stops learning. Even after retiring from iron working, he continued making iron yard and garden sculptures and even an iron spiral staircase at the house. It looked like a pirate lookout. He taught himself to paint and to make guitars. He just keeps getting better and better and learning new things. Jim is one of the most real and kind folks out there. It was a sad day for us when Jim and Judy moved away, and even sadder when Judy passed last year, but it’s nice to stay connected through family and through music.

GayleJim

Interviewer Gayle with Jim and her new guitar.

What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I think I heard it from real estate folks… “get a lot while you’re young”.

How about the worst?

My advice to myself. I made a lot of bad decisions, but never anything with my family. I learned from my mistakes. I always did what I thought was “proper”. My family never heard foul language around the house even though I used it maybe 50 times a day around my fellow iron workers. I’m a product of the 1940s and I just don’t think cussing is proper (unless it’s in front of the cat).

What did you want to be when you grew up?

An iron worker. Always an iron worker. I also liked carpentry.

What do/did you do?

I was initiated into the iron workers union in 1962, at 21 years old. That was young. We worked as high as 1100 feet in the air, and there was no safety gear in those days. We iron workers were “the elite” then. I thought I could whip Ali (Muhammad Ali). I retired in 1996. Now I paint, especially portraits and play and build guitars.

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

Gin, vermouth, and olives.

Try to describe yourself in one sentence.

I have the ability to laugh at myself.

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

Macaroni and cheese. Of course, it’s not the healthiest thing, but macaroni and cheese.

Name one thing you could not live without.

Music. I started making guitars because I wanted a 7-string guitar for myself, so I started with a classical guitar and lumber from the lumberyard to make it. Then made the next one, out of rosewood, for my son Jimmy, and now I’m making guitars for disabled veterans and custom guitars for other musicians. I’m booked for the next year with orders.

JimJudy

Jim with his late wife, Judy.

Tell us about your wedding day or your favorite memory.

My favorite memory is my wedding day. I married Judy, in a church, in 1955. I never really dated anyone else. That pastor didn’t want to marry us because we were too young; she was 17 and I was 21. Well, I spent 61 years with her and we never even had a violent argument. I remember my dad giving us a toaster as a wedding present. Back then, we didn’t have big, expensive weddings and the gifts were something we could use.
Every guitar I make now has a hand painting of a bluebird, from Judy’s china pattern, in her memory. Everyone who gets one of my guitars get a painting of a bluebird on it somewhere.