Esther Gordon celebrated her 100th birthday Saturday, Sept. 29. Gordon, a retired teacher and resident of CHI St. Francis Health in Breckenridge, Minnesota, sat down with Daily News Media. CHI St. Francis is home for Gordon, a place where many of the staff have known or learned from the longtime second grade teacher.
Esther Gordon: I began teaching with four years in country schools. That was in 1938. I had my standard degree from Valley City State (University). That was a pretty good education then.
Frank Stanko: What was the environment like for female teachers?
EG: They were allowing girls to go out of high school, take a test and go on to teach at country schools. The war was on and there was a shortage of teachers.
FS: Where was your first teaching experience?
EG: I taught at a country school near Great Bend, North Dakota. I met my husband, Walter, there. We got married and stayed there. I taught four years (at the country school) and then I taught in Great Bend. That was just one jump above the country school. It had two rooms instead of one.
FS: Do you have any memories about that one-room schoolhouse?
EG: I had attended a country school myself for eight years. That’s where I got my main education. Country schools were wonderful.
FS: Was there any teacher who helped you understand that teaching was what you wanted for your career?
EG: Well, no. My dad did that, the minute I was born. He said I was a girl and I was going to be a teacher just like my mother. My mother had been a country schoolteacher when he met her. You know the old story about the country schoolteacher going out and meeting the boy next door (laughs). That happened to both of them.
FS: What did your father do for a living?
EG: He was a farmer. They were the Eggerts, Robert and Marian. There were four children in the family. I was the oldest, with two sisters and one brother. Their names were Alice Jordan, Avis Potter and Robert Eggert.
FS: What is the timeline of your teaching career before Wahpeton?
EG: I taught in the country school for four years. Then I went to Great Bend for another four years while my husband was in the service. When he came back, we built a home in Wahpeton. I came here, started teaching and never went away.
FS: You taught in Wahpeton for decades. What did you teach?
EG: I taught mainly elementary grades, second grade in fact, for 23 years. Then I did everything from Head Start — when that started here, I helped get it going for three years — and work in adult education and ESL (English as a Second Language). I ended up with teaching GED (General Educational Development) classes.
FS: Is there a favorite teaching experience you have?
EG: I loved every bit of it. I don’t know which one I loved the most. But probably teaching second grade, because I stayed there the longest. That was my career.
FS: Tell me a little about the end of your teaching career.
EG: I was 80 years old when I finally retired. That was part-time, of course. I was still teaching and loving it. I enjoyed all those students and I remember most of them. I have a box of pictures, that I sit and look at, of all those kids in the school.
FS: Let’s talk about your childhood on the farm. Did you have a lot of conveniences? How about an automobile?
EG: My dad had a Ford. I don’t know what model it was, but it had side curtains. There weren’t very many of those then. He had a car, but in the winter, it was horses and sleds.
FS: How did you communicate and stay informed back then?
EG: We had a telephone, the newspaper and magazines. My mother saw to it that we had books and magazines to read. She encouraged it very much.
FS: It sounds like your mother played a large role in your life.
EG: She had taught children in school, so we had an advantage there. We lived in Valley City, near the college. I had relatives who taught in the college. My uncle was the county superintendent. All those things helped me a whole lot.
FS: How did you meet your husband?
EG: He was in Great Bend when I went to teach. I met him there. We had a date, of course. All young men wanted to see the new schoolteacher. Great Bend was a German settlement. They had their own girls teaching in their country schools every year. I was kind of a foreigner, something new, and they had to see me. (laughs).
FS: How long were you married?
EG: We were married in November 1939. We got married the day before Thanksgiving, after school (laughs). We were married just to the beginning of 50 years. My husband always promised me we’d be married for 50 years. He died of cancer just after we reached 50 years.
FS: How many children did you have?
EG: Two. My daughter is from Texas. And I have a son who lives at Lake Melissa, Minnesota, and Fargo. I have four grandchildren who are grownup, of course, with their families. And I have four great-grandchildren.
FS: How does it feel to be a great-grandmother?
EG: That was more exciting than being a grandmother, especially that first time. I wasn’t going to be a grandmother (laughs). But when that little boy came, I tell you, he was our pride and joy. His name is Glenn. He has a business in West Fargo, a very successful one. I’ve been very proud of him. He’s still my boy.
FS: You’ve spent so many years with young people, as a teacher, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. What do you think you most learned from them?
EG: (After some thought) Keep going. Be active and learning. Just have fun. Enjoy life.
FS:: Out of all the different lessons you taught, what do you hope is the one that lasts the most?
EG: The importance of reading. That’s basic to everything. You have to read. I learned to read early. My mother was a teacher and she taught me a lot of things that I’d have to know in school.
FS: How would you have fun as a little girl?
EG: I would sit with my dolls and teach them (laughs). That was my pastime, because we didn’t have a lot of things to play with. You had to make your own fun. I learned to sew and do handwork, craft work. There was baking and general housework. I used to go out and climb all the trees on the farm, sit and watch the insects in the meadow.
FS: What are your favorite activities today?
EG: I like talking to all the people around me. I love to read. I still can see enough to read. I read whenever I can, because this place keeps us busy. They take good care of us. And, of course, I’m old, so I sleep a lot. I have to take my naps.
FS: You take a nap every day?
EG: Oh yes, a good one. But I’m very busy here. I’m on several committees. There’s the committee for betterment of living, working with landscape and activities. There’s the food committee to advise the cook. And the pip committee — but don’t ask me what it stands for — and the welcoming committee.
FS: What are your favorite books to read?
EG: I like to read everything, but I especially like mysteries. Mary Higgins Clark is one of my favorite authors. I like inspirational books and historical novels. Anything they hand me, I’ll read.
FS: Do you listen to the radio or watch TV?
EG: No, I don’t. I intend to, and I like the news. But, of course, the news comes on at the same time we’re in the dining room. But the evening comedy shows, I don’t care for those. I like “Wheel of Fortune.” When I was home, I had the TV on all the time.
FS: How long were you in your home?
EG: I lived in my house about 62 or 63 years. It was a little yellow house across from NDSCS. When I was working with the GED program, Clark Gripentrog was my director. Every year, he’d say, “Esther, you better do it again. It keeps you young.” I kept on until I was 80. Then I thought I better quit (laughs).
FS: How did you decide to live at CHI St. Francis?
EG: I was 80 when I retired, in my own home, doing my flowers and housework. At 92, I went to Texas for Christmas. I had a congestive heart problem and ended up in a nursing home until I could come here. This is home for me.
FS: Where’s the farthest place you’ve ever been, or most favorite place to travel?
EG: I guess it would be Texas. I went there at least once a year. I’d go to Plano, in the Dallas area. My grandchildren, daughter and her husband lived there. We took a lot of side trips and saw a lot of interesting things.
FS: Are there any special vacation memories?
EG: My daughter and I shopped till we dropped (laughs). Going to San Antonio, I really loved that. We went to the Alamo. The red rocks in Colorado, I enjoyed them very much. But other than that, I didn’t do a whole lot of traveling. My husband and I were both working. When he retired, he had cancer, so that put a stop to that. My traveling was to see my family.
FS: Who would you say is the most famous person you’ve ever met?
EG: (laughs) Probably Tom Kleppe (former North Dakota congressman and U.S. Secretary of the Interior). I went to high school with him and then he spoke at my graduation. He was in the president’s cabinet of something at that time and he came back to Valley City and talked.
FS: If you could have dinner with any one historical figure, who would it be?
EG: (giving it thought) Oh boy. I’ve known somebody who visited with Eleanor Roosevelt. She was a very interesting person and a nice lady. Gee, Abraham Lincoln? That would be fun. A self-made man. I think we could find a lot to talk about. That would be an honor to visit with him. Right now, I don’t think there’s anybody that I’m dying to see.
FS: You mentioned earlier that today’s comedy shows don’t impress you. What was the last one that did?
EG: Lucille Ball’s shows. They’re still good to watch. There’s Lawrence Welk, but I don’t listen to him anymore.
FS: In the last 100 years, what advancement has most changed your life for the better?
EG: I think there have been more changes in my 100 years than in any time in history. There’s technology, medicine, travel. The whole world has changed and become a smaller place, more accessible. Lifestyles have really changed. I would not be 100 years old all those years ago, when the life expectancy was age 47.
FS: What do you most want to do on your 100th birthday?
EG: I just hope I have time to talk to each person a little bit. I don’t know if as many people are coming as they tell me there are. If they are, it will be a big bash. This is a busy time of year.
FS: Tell me about the pre-party celebrations.
EG: I’ve gotten a lot cards, a lot of very special ones. There’s been beautiful flowers and many visitors. Some of the visitors I get the most excited about are the ones I had in school. There’s one second grader I had who works here and takes care of me. That’s really fun. I moved here six-and-a-half years ago. I’ve had excellent care and have been happy here. It’s a nice place.
FS: What would you ask someone from the year 2118?
EG: (After some thought) Is there peace in the world? It’s just too bad that there isn’t more peace.
It’s not too late to send birthday cards to Esther Gordon. Address them to 2400 St. Francis Dr., Breckenridge, Minnesota, 56520.
Daily News Media wishes Esther a happy 100th birthday.