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A century full of life
JAN. 30, 2012

Even as she turns 100, Maryon McCalla still has ‘zest’ for life

By Kristen Miller
News Editor

DASSEL, COKATO, HOWARD LAKE, MN – Visiting with Maryon McCalla at her Lakeside apartment in Dassel, one would never guess she recently celebrated her 100th birthday.

Born Jan. 27, 1912, Maryon graduated high school and married her husband, Orrin, during the Great Depression.

Sure, she has had hard times, but her health is strong and her blessings are many.

“I’ve been blessed with so many good friends and family all my life,” she said.

“We grew up very poor, but it seemed like we never really knew it,” she commented.

A lot has changed in the century she has been alive. “I think the most changes have been in this century,” Maryon said, explaining that she grew up riding in a horse and buggy and now her daughter, Delores, or “De,” picks her up in a Cadillac.

At age 100, the only drugs she takes are for her blood pressure, and she has pain from the arthritis in her foot.

Maryon also has macular degeneration, “but there isn’t much you can do for that,” she said, describing it’s like being in the fog all the time.

She never smoked a cigarette or drank alcohol. For fun, she collected postcards, painted crafts, and wrote stories and poetry. Therefore, not being able to see, has been the hardest for her.

“It’s a good thing I’ve got my mind, I guess,” she said.

Despite the obstacles of aging, Maryon still gets around her apartment and loves to listen to music and dance.

“She has such zest for life,” said friend Irene Bender of Dassel.

Maryon recently celebrated her birthday during an open house with 150 of her friends and family at Dassel Lakeside Apartments.

“I was surprised how many people came,” she said.

With a one-man band, Maryon was dancing and having a good time with some people she hadn’t seen for years.

“It was wonderful,” she said.

Maryon even proved that she still has a good sense of humor joking that she didn’t know she had so many friends and that all of her enemies must have already died.

And she thanked the musician for not starting with the song, “Open up the pearly gates, I’m coming’ home.”

Sheryl Faust was a guest at the party and said “Maryon, at 100, still enjoys life. It’s a pleasure to be around her.”

Maryon was born in Stockholm Township and was the oldest of nine children. She and her 88-year-old brother, Roger, of Golden Valley, are the only two siblings remaining.

Her family then moved to Cokato, and she graduated from Cokato High School in 1930.

A month later, she married her husband, Orrin.

She would always tell him how stupid that was, with only the $20 they had. He would then reply, “I still have $10 left.”

Together, they lived on his homestead west of Howard Lake. His grandfather settled there following the Dustin family massacre of 1863, when a party of Dakota Indians – one who was identified as Little Crow by one of the victims, before dying from an arrow wound to her back and chest – attacked a family of six while traveling in their wagon. Four of the six were killed.

She remembers the stock market crashing in 1929. “That was a terrible catastrophe,” Maryon recalled.

Then came the drought, costing people their farms. They even moved their animals up north, where there had been rain.

“We had food, but it was too dry, nothing grew,” she said.

“The navy beans grew though. We had a whole wagon load,” she laughed.

The best thing about those times was that everybody helped each other, she commented. “We never even locked our doors. Now you can’t do that.”

In 1948, they quit the farm and moved into Howard Lake, where they raised their four children, Delores (New Brighton), Charles (Livingston), Roger “Cotton” (Billings, MT), and Howard (Arizona).

Though her husband moved to the Twin Cities area for work, she stayed behind, waiting for the kids to graduate, she said.

She then began working for Tonka Toys in Mound, and later at Donaldson’s, a department store in Minneapolis.

Maryon recalled her daughter always talking about wanting to take care of the elderly when she grew up. When Delores did grow up, that’s what they did.

As a family, they built nursing homes around the state and country.

Maryon remembers what has been called “The Day of 100 Tornadoes” in April 1974, when more than 100 tornadoes touched down all over the country within two days. They had been driving with their pickup through Ohio on their way to open a nursing home in Kettering, just miles from the town of Xenia, where an F5 tornado destroyed the town.

She recalled stopping to eat at restaurant just off the toll way before continuing on their way. They would later find out the restaurant had been destroyed by a tornado after they had left.

“God must have meant us to get there and open up the nursing home,” she said.

Years later, Maryon still has the Reader’s Digest with accounts from that historical day.

As to the secret to a long life, Maryon isn’t sure what it is, though her mother also lived to be 96. Her son will joke that the reason she’s lived so long is because all she ever eats is a cookie with a cup of coffee.

Each day, she remembers to count the many blessings in her life.

“I have so many reasons to live each day,” she said.

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