BY GABE LICHT
DELANO, MN One hundred years seems like a long time, but local centenarian Alice Noreen remembers many parts of her 100 years as if they happened yesterday.
She, of course, does not remember when she was born Alice Laverna Ida Elizabeth Kuntz Aug. 14, 1918, at her family’s home in Lyndale.
Her father liked the name Alice, her mother’s brother voted for Laverna, and Ida and Elizabeth were her grandmothers’ names.
She was baptized at home that September, with her parents hoping it would help cure her colic, as they had been told, but to no avail.
A coal stove in the dining room was tasked with heating the house, but Noreen remembers it not circulating very well. Kerosene and gas lamps were used as light sources until she was 5, when electricity was extended from the nearby church.
“It was so much fun to push a button and have bright lights instead of carrying a lamp from room to room,” Noreen said.
All water came from a pump outside and had to return outside, due to a lack of drains and indoor plumbing.
Church was always an important part of her life, Noreen said, even though she remembers falling asleep on hard wood benches there.
As an only child, she loved the songs, lessons, and socializing that came along with Sunday school, as well as the Christmas and Easter services that were well attended because they served as the area’s main entertainment.
School in the one-room schoolhouse was also a social and educational experience. Each morning, the students greeted the teacher by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and singing “Good morning to you. Good morning to you. Good morning, dear teacher. Good morning to you.”
With no running water, older students took turns carrying drinking water from the creamery to fill the drinking fountains each day. An outhouse stood outside the school, and when students needed to visit it, they lifted one or two fingers in the air, so the teacher knew about how long they might be gone from the classroom.
“Play day” each year consisted of competing in races and games against other schools like St. Bonifacius, the Lee School, and the Copeland School.
In the summers, Noreen and her friends, Millie and Ev, ventured into the woods to pick flowers such as mayflowers, Dutchman’s breeches, and violets.
When she was 7, she had a scary experience.
“We heard cracking sounds,” Noreen said. “Looking out of the window, we saw flames coming out of our garage, and the wind was blowing from the southwest, and flames were coming toward the house.”
Being afraid that the house might burn, too, she grabbed her doll, doll carriage, and a few toys in case she needed to evacuate, which was not necessary in the end. Neighbors arrived to help extinguish the fire, which destroyed the garage and car, but spared the house.
“I close my eyes to this day, and I see it,” Noreen said.
Though she has never considered herself a talented singer, when she was in seventh grade, she had the opportunity to sing on a WCCO Radio program.
“What an experience that was for us country kids to go to the big city of Minneapolis to practice one week, and sing the next week,” Noreen said.
Her father’s store next to the creamery was open Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, and she helped there starting around age 10.
“My mother would ask if I wanted to clean the house or go to the store,” Noreen said. “I always chose the store.”
There wasn’t time for much else. Exceptions included church, an occasional silent movie in Delano, or a visit to see family. Her father also played baseball, so she would travel with him sometimes to watch him play.
Back then, seventh- and eighth-grade students were required to take and pass state board examinations in order to advance to the next grade.
She did so, and went on to high school in Mound, a daunting experience for someone coming from the small Lyndale School.
Her father and her friend’s father successfully petitioned the school district for a school bus that traveled about 20 miles in order to get to Mound seven miles away.
To break the ice in a new school with new classmates, she and a friend tried out for the freshmen play.
“They must have been hard up for talent because I got a small part at the beginning of each of the three acts in the play ‘Sound Your Horn,’” Noreen said.
Despite not having an ear for music, she picked up her father’s old violin, and earned a spot in the orchestra. That violin hangs on her wall to this day.
Taking home economics was a must, according to her mother, who was not known for her cooking skills.
During her sophomore year, she developed Bell’s Palsy, affecting the right side of her face for a few months. She said she is thankful it did not remain permanently.
She went on to graduate, wearing a dress a family friend made for her.
“Walking across the stage made me scared, yet feeling important,” Noreen said. “I think I was one of just a few relatives who had received a high school diploma.”
After graduating from high school, she thought about going to school to become a teacher.
A salesman for American Business College convinced her and her parents that his school was the right fit for her. It would only take one year to complete, and she’d be able to get a secretarial job in Minneapolis, compared to a two-year commitment for teachers college.
In September, 1937, she started out working for an advertising company called Addison Lewis and Associates. Her salary of $60 per month was quickly absorbed by room and board, and a bus fare home on weekends. Due to the poor economy, she was laid off from the job after six months, having been the last person hired.
She went on to work for Maple Plain Bank for $50 per month, which stretched farther since she was able to work from home and commute there easier.
In the summer of 1938, her eighth-grade teacher, Edna McGown, visited her home and convinced her parents to send her to St. Cloud State Teacher’s College.
“Dad said he never got to go to school and do what he would have liked to do in life, so he wanted me to have a chance,” Noreen said.
She was expected to teach for at least five years unless she got married, as married women were not allowed to teach at that time.
Notable highlights and lowlights of college included getting a D in the folk dancing portion of physical education, because her folks never knew how to dance and could not teach her how to do so; serving as president of the Rural Life Club for a quarter; and serving for a quarter as president of Lawrence Hall, where she dealt with chaos when a classmate threw a firecracker down the stairway from the third floor.
Graduation brought mixed emotions.
“We rejoiced because we were through, but sad about saying goodbye to friends we weren’t sure we’d see again,” Noreen said.
For some, teaching at the school they attended would be a dream come true.
But, when the position at the Lyndale School was available upon her graduation, she “didn’t think that was wise because some of the kids had been my students in Sunday school.”
Instead, she opted for Fish Lake School No. 46, 20 miles away near Osseo.
She received an offer of $85 per month compared to $75 per month many country schools paid in 1940. She remembers she also saw the film “Gone with the Wind” for the first time that day.
At Fish Lake, she taught more than 20 students in seven grades.
“Just meeting the kids, trying to remember their names and the grade they were in, as well as getting 6- to 12-year-olds into seats to fit and according to grade was hard in itself,” Noreen said.
Limited technology made things interesting. For example, she remembers using carbon paper to tediously make copies.
A field trip to Como Park turned into an adventure for her and the students she was transporting. On the way there, she followed someone else and had no problems.
“Coming home, I followed the same woman, but she decided to take a different road,” Noreen said. “She led me right onto University Avenue, and then with more traffic during the afternoon, I lost her. With a car full of kids, I was really scared.”
She eventually found her way back to Fish Lake via Robbinsdale.
“I was a very happy and thankful person to get back to the school safely,” Noreen said.
In her second year, she received a $5 per month raise, but that wasn’t enough to keep her there after two years, and she transferred to Stubbs Bay seven miles from home, and earned $110 per month.
“Teachers were scarce due to the fact that defense plants were paying better wages, so many teachers left teaching. Teachers’ salaries had to improve,” Noreen said.
There, she had a full-time janitor, a cook, a new building with indoor plumbing, and better equipment and materials. Better yet, she taught about 20 students in grades one through four.
She taught there for six years, before moving on to teach in Maple Plain for four years.
After a six-year hiatus, she started substitute teaching for Carol Mooney in 1954 in Watertown. That turned into teaching remedial reading two days a week in Watertown 1955-57.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree and certification for special education, she taught special education for 22 years in Watertown, which she called her favorite teaching position.
“Those kids, it’s so much fun to see when they get happy they can do something they couldn’t do before,” Noreen said.
She still gets emotional talking about teaching and the accomplishments of her students.
Family and friends
Alice and Harland “Dick” Noreen were married June 28, 1947.
“Our wedding was pretty simple,” she said. “ . . . No wedding invitations were sent. We just said ‘open house,’ so anyone who wished came. The small church was packed, and some were looking through the windows.”
She remembers her honeymoon started in Minneapolis. They traveled to northern Minnesota and Canada before returning home, stopping at lakes and rivers to fish along the way.
They moved into her parents’ home to care for her father, who had had a heart attack in 1945. Noreen also cared for her mother until her dying day.
The couple went on to have three children.
Loren, 66, is married with one daughter and two grandsons. He is a retired pharmacist.
Sandra, 65, is married with one son and two grandsons. She is a retired piano instructor.
Jim, 60, is married with two sons and three grandsons. He is a building contractor.
Her family and friends threw a party for her 100th birthday at Lyndale Lutheran Church.
They speak highly of her.
“You’re helping us all live our lives,” her goddaughter Marilyn Lemke said. “I think of how many lives you’ve touched.
“Alice is interesting because she’s interested to hear about your story,” friend Cindy Sullwold added.
She’s not sure of the secret to a long life, but she has an idea of why she has accomplished the milestone.
“The Lord thinks I’m so bad, He’s punishing me,” she said with a laugh, before adding, “No, He must have something for me.”