Ethelyn Pearson: Wadena's wise wordsmith
Ethelyn Pearson has been a published author since the early days of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration, when the Hewitt Banner ran her contest-winning poem about the Boston Tea Party.
The small town paper ceased publication a short time later. Pearson hasn't yet.
More than eight decades and thousands of articles later, the 93-year-old Wadena woman is still going strong, telling meticulously researched, often untold local histories from the iMac computer in her Fair Oaks apartment.
Over the years, she's sold her work to countless international, national and regional publications. These days, she writes a monthly story for the Pioneer Journal. If she's on deadline, she's still willing to stay up all night to meet it.
"I have always had to write," Pearson said.
There's one thing she hasn't been able to write about authoritatively - at least not yet.
"I want to go to jail," Pearson said with a mischievous grin. "The people with stories are in jail. These law abiding people, they don't got nothing to talk about."
Alas, she doubts she'll ever be able to cross that item off of her bucket list.
Pearson will gain a new life experience Thursday night, although she wasn't seeking it. She was chosen to serve as the grand marshal of the June Jubilee parade.
"I think they didn't look hard enough," Pearson said. "I couldn't believe it."
Born Ethelyn Linnell, Pearson "kind of had a rough time growing up," she said.
After her father, a violinist in the Minneapolis Symphony, left them when she was four, the family settled at her grandfather's farm east of Hewitt.
"Nobody had the money or room to take in three more people," Pearson said. "Somehow, some way, they managed to feed us all."
She found solace reading and writing under a tree on the farm and keeping toads as pets - something she's done most of her life.
"I always had a toad in my pocket," she said. "That way, I always had a friend along."
Although she loved learning, Pearson never graduated from high school. Near the end of her senior year, her appendix ruptured.
"I darn near died," she said. "I didn't really care (about finishing) anyhow. I had picked out a handsome farmer and was going to get married."
She and Milton Pearson got hitched just after her 18th birthday. It was 1939, the midst of the Great Depression, and it was tough to make a living farming.
Within two years, the couple "sold whatever little stuff we had and moved to California," Ethelyn said.
There, Milton worked as an inspector in a B-25 factory. But the farm boy yearned to return to Minnesota. They did after the war, settling on some land west of Wadena, where they raised their three children - two boys and a girl - and lived together for another 46 years.
All the while, Ethelyn continued to write. She broke into freelancing in the late '40s when The Farmer magazine published her short fictional story called "Queenie," about an underrated Holstein at a 4-H show. The publication ended up running more than 25 of her farm stories throughout the years - at $150 each.
"If I'd have gotten my postage back, I'd have thought that was pretty good," Ethelyn said.
While Ethelyn expanded her freelancing portfolio, the couple bought a St. Cloud roller rink in the early 1960s, commuting from Wadena.
"We had a ball," Ethelyn said. "We'd skate all night and go to Perkins for breakfast."
After they sold the rink in 1969, Ethelyn became activities supervisor at Shady Lane Nursing home
Her 23 years there were some of the most fulfilling of her life, she said. "I loved that job."
Seven years ago, Ethelyn moved from the farm to Fair Oaks apartments, just down Shady Lane.
Sipping coffee at her dining room table last week, Pearson shared a reflective passage she recently wrote: "At 93 years old, I believe my life has gone very close to full circle. There are still things I would like to do, stories I would like to write. I hope that I will be leaving more stepping stones than roadblocks. But, when God calls my number, I will just close my book and go. I am content."
Like most people who came of age during the Great Depression, Pearson can't believe how far society has has come, from hot lead typesetting to iMacs and Cloud computing.
"I feel a little guilty when I think about how little my grandparents had," she said. "They had nothing and they didn't know it.
"They had everything."