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9/26/2013 1:38:00 PM
Sogn girl Gladys Stenhaug celebrates 100th birthday

by Ken Haggerty

Gladys Stenhaug, still sharp- witted, bright-eyed and getting around by herself with just a little help from a walker, celebrated her 100th birthday on September 11.

The 100th is a big one, so Stenhaug had two parties. The first was a well attended gathering at the Urland Church, where she was baptized and active her entire life. The second was at Twin Rivers Senior Living Campus, where she has had her own room since 2009.

Stenhaug was born, raised and lived most of her life in the Sogn Valley. It hasn't been the easiest life, losing her mother at nine years old and seeing her husband paralyzed from the waist down by polio just a few years after they were married; but like many of her Norwegian forebears who settled in the area, she seems stoic and more than content with her life.

"Were we happy?" said Stenhaug, repeating a visitor's question about growing up and living in the first half of the 20th century. "We seemed to be. I think we just took it as it came."

Born in 1913, Gladys is the daughter of Martin and Marie (Nyhus) Ohnstad, who had five children and farmed just east of Sogn, near the top of the hill. Gladys was the second oldest, behind Stella and ahead of Mildred, Arnold and Inez.

Her mother died when she was nine, but her father wanted to keep the family together. Inez was just a baby so she moved near Holden to live with a relative, but the rest of the kids stayed on the farm with dad.

Gladys remembers always having some work to do on the farm as they kept cattle, chickens, hogs and a few milk cows plus raised crops, hauled water, kept a furnace stoked and helped out around the home as well. They raised potatoes and butchered their own meat. "You learned to do a lot of different things," she said.

The worst job she remembers? "We used to have to shock grain in the dead of summer. Sometimes we would pretend that we were overheated to get out of it," she laughs.

When her older sister worked off the farm for income, Gladys said she had to take on more of the cooking and household duties.

Gladys went to school through grade eight at the Sogn School, District 52. The school had one teacher as she remembers and when she went to her first day of school, she spoke no English. Both mom and dad spoke Norwegian at home. The teacher spoke Norwegian and English and helped the children learn English, while also holding on to some of their Norwegian heritage.

Among her fond memories of those days is picking up a fresh loaf of bread after school from her dad's sisters, who lived near the school. They would cross through Harold Otterness's pasture and "a lot of times, we would eat it up before we even got home."

She married Adolph Stenhaug, the son of Joel and Berniece Stenhaug in 1937. Adolph also grew up on a farm near Sogn and he and Gladys lived there. They had a daughter, Marilyn, in 1939, who would be their only child. Adolph got polio in 1941 and the family moved off the farm to a house right in Sogn next to the gas station, which they ran. A relative helped weld and set up a system of bars that went from the house to the station and from the station to the pumps. Adolph would pull himself along the bars to get around.

They would run the Sogn Station, originally affiliated with Conoco and later with Standard Oil, up until the 1980s. In addition to fuel and oil, they had a cooler with some drinks available as well as some basic groceries like coffee, tobacco, aspirin, razors and candy.

Gladys said that what the store really provided was a social stop and source of information. "We'd have some of these farmers stop in after taking in milk (Sogn used to have a creamery/cheese plant) and stop in at the station and visit for hours," said Gladys. "If you asked anybody 'Where did you hear that?' the answer was more often than not, the Sogn Station."

Gladys has been on her own since Adolph died in 1992. She moved into Cannon Falls in 1996 at that time. She still keeps up her own apartment, vacuums, and does laundry along with some knitting and crochet work. Her daughter, Marilyn (Goodrich), graduated from Cannon Falls in 1957 and now lives in Plymouth, MN. Gladys has three grandsons and more great-grandchildren.

Gladys and her sister, Inez (Mills), 91, Northfield, are the only survivors of her family. Sister Stella (Flom), died at 94, in 2006. Sister Mildred (Wiberg) died in her late 80s. Both lived in the Sogn area as well. Brother Arnold Ohnstad died in 2012 at age 96.

Gladys's advice for making it to 100 years (besides the obviously good family genes)? "Eat good, get plenty of sleep."

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