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Paynesville Press - April 28, 2004

Irving Township woman celebrates 100th birthday

By Bonnie Jo Hanson

In 1904 - 100 years ago - Theodore Roosevelt was the president of the United States, the Wright brothers made their first successful flight at Kitty Hawk, and Myrtle (Hanson) Hagen was born in Irving Township.

On Saturday, April 17, Hagen and more than 200 friends and family members celebrated her 100th birthday with a party. Instead of candles, 100 baby roses - representing each year of her life - adorned the cake and the table.

Myrtle reading There is no secret to living 100 years, according to Hagen. She doesn't adhere to any special regimes. She eats what she wants, claiming a Norwegian sweet tooth, and fills her days at Washburne Court -╩where she has lived for the last eight years - working on her embroidery and visiting with her family and friends.

Myrtle (Hanson) Hagen, then 14, reads her eighth grade diploma at her graduation from country school in 1918. Hagen celebrated her 100th birthday earlier this month.

"I just take one day at a time," she said.

Hagen - who is healthy as a horse considering her years, according to her daughter, Mae Seelund - has lived through the administrations of 17 presidents, through six wars, and through the Great Depression. She has outlived many of her friends and family.

Hagen witnessed aviation technology advance from bi-planes to space shuttles. She remembers the grief she felt when President Kennedy died and the annoyance she felt when she realized that she could no longer purchase a tie for $5.

Hagen was born and raised on a farm in Irving Township, where she spent most of her life. She remembers a wonderful childhood on that farm. With no electricity, no tractors for fieldwork, and very few automobiles, life was more difficult but simpler than it is now, she said.

The child of Norwegian immigrants, one of Hagen's earliest memories is walking to school with her five siblings. The one-room schoolhouse was about a mile and a half from their home, but the children had to walk the distance every day until they finished eighth grade, unless there was a lot of snow. Then their father would take them to school in a sled.

Back then, farm people stuck together and people made their own fun, said Hagen. Church events at Nordland Lutheran Church, where she is a lifelong member, were also an important part of their social life while she was growing up. She remembers going to winter parties in horse-drawn sleds and to dances and card games with her neighbors when she was older.

Without electricity, there was no radio for dancing - at least not initially - so the family used a hand-cranked phonograph for music.

Also, without electricity, there were no automatic milking systems for the family's 20 dairy cows, so milking was done by hand. "It wasn't that bad," said Hagen. The bad part was storing the milk that the family didn't sell. "We had to put the milk down the well to keep it cool. I don't know how someone didn't fall down that well," she added.

During Hagen's childhood, the fieldwork on the family's 80-acre farm was done with horses, because the family did not have a tractor. (In those days tractors were large, cumbersome, and expensive, so very few farmers used them.) Although Hagen didn't do much of the field work, she remembers her mother plowing fields with horses.

When Hagen was 14, she graduated from country school - where lessons were concentrated on reading, writing, and arithmetic - and spent a few years in high school in New London. Without a car, however, she had to live with a New London family during the week and spent only weekends at home with her family.

When her family did get a car, she was one of the first girls in the area to drive. The car was a model-T, although Hagen can't remember the year. Back then, she said, it was usually only boys that got to drive, but since hers was a family of girls, she got to drive the car.

Telephones were another form of technology that Hagen reveled in during her childhood. The old hand-cranked phone hung on the wall in the farmhouse. Each home had its own ring, said Hagen. Because everyone's phones were attached to the same "party line," Hagen admitted with a laugh that she eavesdropped on her neighbors a bit when she was a kid.

She married Alvin Hagen, a neighbor boy, in December 1923. The ceremony was held at home just days before Christmas. The couple raised three children - Mae, Myron, and Burnett - on the home farm, where they lived until the 1950s.

During the depression, life was better for farmers than it was for others, said Seeland, because farmers could grow their own food. Most area farmers still had to find jobs so they could buy feed for their animals. Hagen's clearest memory during that time is a neighbor woman who recycled fabric from old clothing into new clothing. Without her, everyone in the neighborhood would have worn rags, said Hagen.

Through the years, Hagen and her family lived through many changes on the family farm: the installation of electricity in the 1930s, the family's first tractor in 1939, and an automated milking system. All of these things made life easier. Hagen also remembers her first radio, which worked on batteries before electricity came to Irving Township, and her first TV.

Alvin died in 1983, leaving Myrtle a widow. Through the years there were other hardships, but Hagen chooses not to dwell on them.

Hagen really doesn't think living 100 years is a big deal, according to Seeland. Nearing 80 herself, Seeland laughed that she hopes the longevity is hereditary.

Hagen would like to thank all of her friends and family who helped celebrate her birthday. The roses, from her children, were especially nice, she added.

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