A century of livingWoodrow Wilson was president in 1913. The 16th and 17th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution were ratified that year. And the nation’s first minimum wage law went into effect in Oregon.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
Woodrow Wilson was president in 1913. The 16th and 17th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution were ratified that year. And the nation’s first minimum wage law went into effect in Oregon.
“Those were the good old days,” said Viola (nee Runser) Schiestl White, recalling the world into which she was born almost a century ago.
Born July 28, 1913, White was the youngest of four children born to Robert A. Runser and Valeria Barnard in a one-room log cabin 3½ miles south of Foxboro.
White said she was about 1-year-old when the family moved to an eight-room house built by her father.
Now, 100 years later, White of Phoenix, Ariz., is back in Superior to celebrate a century of life.
“It’s a long time,” she said. “I lived here for many, many years in the house right over there,” she said pointing to a house near North 21st Street and Lackwanna Avenue in Billings Park.
However, her early years were spent in rural Douglas County in a time when few owned an automobile and getting to Superior meant hopping a train from a boxcar placed near the tracks.
“I went to a school that had all eight grades and I walk a mile and a half to school,” White said. “At that time, there were no cars and no nothing.”
In fact, 1913 was the first year a sedan-style vehicle, a Hudson, was put on display at what was then the 13th annual Auto Show in New York City.
“Once in a great while our dad would take us (to school) in really bad weather,” White said. That meant putting a horse team together and loading up the sleigh to get to the old Nelson school. Sometimes, the kids would ride an old horse to school, then turn the horse around and send it back home, she said.
Trains were an important form of transportation for the family that churned its own butter and canned its own vegetables.
During the Great Depression, White said hobos would hop off the train and her father would give them jobs on the family farm.
“The railroad went through our property and if anyone would get sick enough they had to go to a doctor … we would go down and wait in the box car on our property for a train to go by,” she said. “Sometimes we would get in with the horses and the cows.”
White remembered her mother waiting 12 hours for a train one time when her mother’s toothache resulted in the side of her face swelling.
Then they would wait at the depot in the city until the next train would take them home.
“You never knew when that would be,” White remembered.
When the family finally got a car, it was a Ford. White was 9-years-old when she learned to drive. Getting her license was as simple as going to the town garage in Foxboro, filling out a form and paying a quarter for the license.
However, getting to Superior then was still tough, and “took forever,” she said. The roads in those days were designed for horse-drawn wagons rather than the nation’s early automobiles.
She said when she finished the eighth grade, like her older sister Mavis, she worked for room and board in the city, to finish high school. She was just 12-years-old when she started high school. Four years later she graduated.
“It was terrible,” White said. “I would have quit every day if my mother didn’t convince me to hang in there one more day.”
During those years, she was able to take the train home once a month, but she had to take the children she was caring for to earn her room and board with her.
“I wanted to be a teacher,” White recalled. However, her mother had been a teacher and didn’t want her to follow that career path. So White went back to high school to learn business skills that allowed her do secretarial work.
After all, she didn’t want to be a registered nurse like her sister — her mother’s preference.
“It didn’t’ suit me,” White said. “So I just did secretarial work.” She worked for the welfare department in Hawthorne, Solon Springs and Superior.
At 21, White married her first husband, Andrew Schiestl, with whom she raised four children — Joan, Donna, Andy and Craig —and lived many years in the Billings Park neighborhood.
“Our place, somehow or another, seemed to be the place in all of Billings Park where all the kids came,” White said.
Andy Scheistl, White’s oldest son, attributed the phenomenon to his dad’s job at West End Iron and Metal. His father frequently brought home toys left for scrap the children would play with.
“He would come home with a trunk full of toys, so it was like every day was Christmas,” Andy Schiestl said.
Living across the street from the former St. Patrick’s School in Billings Park, she also remembers when school officials coming to her home to use the phone because the school didn’t have one.
Her daughter-in-law, Sue Schiestl said White has kept up with the changes in technology over the years. Since 2000, she’s had an email account and she got an iPad at age 97, Sue Schiestl said.
But living 100 years has meant living longer than her friends, and outliving two husband, Andrew, who passed away in 1976, and Harold White who she married 10 years later.
Still, she’s looking forward to the gathering of friends and family planned for noon to 5 p.m. July 28 at the Superior-Douglas County Senior Center, 1527 Tower Ave.
She only has one worry: There won’t be enough time to visit with everyone.