Oct. 9, 2006

102 and counting

By Ryan Gueningsman
Managing Editor

Five days before Delano’s Janet (Mara) Compton was born Dec. 22, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright flew their famous flight at Kitty Hawk.

Theodore Roosevelt was the president of the United States, and Compton was beginning her life on a farm located between Delano and Watertown, the only daughter of Thomas and Agnes Mara.

While growing up, young Janet spent time between Illinois and Minnesota. Her brother, Loren, was born in Illinois in 1911, and her mother decided to move the family back to Minnesota.

“We came back in March when I was eight years old,” Janet said. Around that same time, the Titanic met its fate, sinking to the depths of the Atlantic Ocean April 15, 1912.

Once they got back to the Delano area, Janet’s other brother, Robert, was born in 1913.

Several years down the road, Janet met a young man at church by the name of Matthew Compton, but wasn’t well-acquainted with him.

Janet and a girlfriend of hers were out for a walk one Sunday afternoon, when Matthew drove up in his little Ford Coupe, she said.

“He had a girlfriend with him, but he wanted us to go for a ride, so I had to sit on his girlfriend’s lap,” she said.

“He took her home first . . . then he didn’t go with her anymore,” she added with a laugh. “That’s really how I got acquainted with him.”

A couple years later in 1925, the young couple was married at the courthouse in Buffalo.

“Money . . . there wasn’t much back then,” Janet said, but she and Matthew relocated for a short while to Matthew’s father’s farm, located in Collinwood Township, south of Dassel, and their oldest son, Roger, was born July 9, 1926.

A couple of months after Roger’s birth, legendary Yankees baseball player Babe Ruth hit three home runs in a World Series game.

Roger’s younger brother, Thomas, was born a little more than a year later Sept. 7, 1927. Next in line was Lyle, who was born to the Comptons Dec. 3, 1928.

With three young children in tow, and Matthew working on his father’s farm, things seemed to be going on the right track for the young family – until the Great Depression hit the country.

“We moved 17 times from the time I was about six,” Roger, now 80, said. “After the crash in ‘29, hardly anybody had anything.”

The family made its home near Delano for a short while, before moving east to Maple Plain.

“I know of three houses in Maple Plain we lived in,” Roger said. “I went to first grade at the old school house in Maple Plain – where the antique shop is.”

From there, the family moved to a place south of the railroad tracks, straight across from where Halgren’s Ice Cream was located, and close to where the fire hall is now.

From there, the Comptons moved up the road a short distance to what was called Armstrong, located near the intersection of Hennepin County Road 90 and Highway 12.

“The old town hall is still there,” Roger said. One of the farms just north of where they lived on County Road 90 was Steiner’s farm, Roger said.

“My dad worked for Roy Steiner,” Roger said.

Eventually, Matthew went to work for the railroad in the 1930s, and also worked for the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

“Too many miles under the bridge,” Roger said with a laugh. “I know we lived in at least three houses in Maple Plain, and four here in Delano before we came here to this house.”

Along the way, the Compton family gained another member with the birth of brother, Vern, Nov. 9, 1936.

In 1937, the Comptons had the chance to purchase a home on Third Street in Delano for $300.

“I’ve lived there ever since,” Janet said. She is proud of the large garden she had maintained every year, and said she canned 500 to 600 quarts of vegetables yearly. Janet also recalls buying potatoes and having them brought down to the cellar of the home.

“Always enough to get through the winter,” Janet said. “All we had to buy at the store was flour and sugar; I made my own bread . . . my neighbor’s son used to bring us feed sacks that had tears in them. I used them for clothes and shorts.”

“She had homemade dresses out of feed sacks,” Janet and Matthew’s youngest son, David, who was born Jan. 8, 1941, said.

“They looked every bit as good as store clothes because she did a beautiful job on them,” added Tom.

Janet said Matthew was away from home a lot due to his work. At this time, he was working on a bridge building crew with Great Northern.

“It was rough going there for awhile,” Janet said, noting that all of her boys went to high school, and served in the Navy, with the exception of David, who was in an accident.

“She has a bunch of military letters,” Roger said of his mother. “We used to mail letters; we just wrote ‘free’ up in the corner. One time, I wrote to 37 different people.”

After returning from the service, the boys branched out and started families of their own.

All the boys still live in the area, and have given Janet 26 grandchildren, 41 great-grandchildren, and a handful of great-great-grandchildren.

Matthew suffered a heart attack and passed away in 1966. From that time, until 15 years ago when Roger moved back in with Janet, she has lived on her own at the same house she moved into in 1937.

“She says we keep her going,” Vern said.

“They all got old along with me,” joked Janet about her sons.

To keep active, Janet worked her garden, researched her family history, made scrapbooks for her family and friends, and made quilts.

“That’s what keeps her young,” Lyle said. “It keeps her busy.”

“To me,” Janet said, “that’s just fun to make those.”

She has made nine quilts this past year, alone. She also writes letters to family members that she has done family research on, all across the country.

“The most important thing is family,” Janet said with a smile.

“She’s spent many, many years sending letters,” Tom said. “I think that’s what keeps her memory so good.”

Looking back on her life, and the time she gets to spend with her sons every week, Janet said, “I took care of them when dad was away from home . . . now they’re taking care of me.

At least two or three of her sons accompany her for lunch every Tuesday at the Delano Senior Center, with sometimes as many as all five showing up.

“There aren’t many people who still have their mother around by the time they reach 75-80 years,” Lyle said.

“Everything has changed,” Janet said, when asked about her span of 102 years and counting.

“Keep smiling . . . we can usually all find something to smile about.”

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