At 100 years old, Alvida Browne loves seeing Wadena succeed

She grew up in southeastern Minnesota before serving in the Navy in Washington, D.C. during World War II, working at a medical office and raising five children in Wadena. Today, Alvida continues her legacy of giving back to the community at 100 years old.

Four women smiling for a photo.
Alvida Browne, center, celebrates her 97th birthday in 2019 alongside her daughters Barb, Becky and Sarah. Her sons Kip and Jeff also run Wadena State Bank where she and Jack started the Browne Family Foundation.
Contributed / Browne Family

WADENA — From 1922 to 2022, Alvida Browne has loved her communities.

She grew up in southeastern Minnesota before serving in the Navy in Washington, D.C. during World War II, working at a medical office and raising five children in Wadena. Today, Alvida continues her legacy of giving back to the community at 100 years old.

“It’s a nice community. I like Wadena,” Alvida said. “It’s a rather safe community too with what’s going on in the world.”

She enjoys seeing Wadena thrive, including by supporting community members and projects through the Jack and Alvida Browne Family Foundation . They started the foundation in 1999 with a $1 million endowment , and one mission: to help give back.

“My husband was all for helping the community because he felt that they had been good to him so he wanted to give them something back,” Alvida said. The foundation keeps their strong community commitment going, though Jack passed away in December 2009. “I think it’s wonderful to help the community.”


Black and white image of man and woman.
Jack and Alvida Browne were married in 1950 and grew their family to five children and 12 grandchildren.
Contributed / Browne Family

As previous president of Wadena State Bank, Jack, like his father before him, carried on the business with his sons Kip and Jeff who serve as president and executive vice president. Their grandsons Ryan and Andrew also work with the bank.

“She really cares about Wadena,” Jeff said. “We always drive through downtown and she (Alvida) always says, ‘Boy, Wadena sure is doing well, isn’t it?’ … ‘Jack would be proud, and wouldn’t it be neat for him to see all the neat things that are going on here?’”

Over her many years in Wadena, Alvida said plenty of changes have happened like the town growing and the new school after the tornado. She’s also enjoyed traveling to Europe and Central America with friends.

“We traveled a lot,” Alvida remarked. She and Jack spent their winters in Rio Verde, Ariz. where they again were involved with the community. Alvida served as a lector at St. Dominic’s Parish. In their golfing community, they loved the sport and ended up living there for eight months out of the year.

Her travels first started when she joined the Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) in 1942. Alvida learned about and signed up for the WAVES all in a day alongside one of her friends. And within one month, she was training at Hunter College in New York.

“My training was the same as the men,” Alvida described in a Wadena County Historical Society interview in 2019. “We marched in storms, if it was lightning and thunder we didn’t march but if it was a heavy rain, we would march.”

Listen to Alvida share some of her life experiences:

The training lasted about two months starting at 5 a.m. daily. While waiting for their active duty orders, the WAVES stayed at the Roosevelt Hotel for about a month. “They took very good care of us,” Alvida said. Her orders brought her to Washington, D.C. in the Bureau of Personnel, where 6,000 employees worked.

As a seaman, she started in the transportation department as a secretary and worked her way to the congressional liaison department where she earned the rank of first class petty officer in the enlisted ranks. The liaison department was “very prestigious,” as Alvida said, with only about 20 people that communicated between Congress and the soldiers.


“We had a language all of our own and we didn’t think anything of it,” Alvida said. “It got to be so common because everybody we were with was in uniform.”

Woman in Navy uniform.
Alvida Browne served in the Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) from 1942-45 during World War II.
Contributed / Browne Family

She also joined the drum bugle corps playing the bugle at events like baseball games and in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s memorial parade. She played the bugle in high school along with theatre, speech, choir and cheerleading. “My dad was a musician and he was a director of the town band and he taught everybody how to play the instruments,” Alvida said. Her sister and four brothers also enjoyed music.

With new close friends in the WAVES, the group enjoyed going to New York for Broadway performances and eating out at restaurants. On an evening out in Washington, they met an admiral who offered the group a ride on Secretary of War Robert Patterson’s airplane. Out of their group, only Alvida and Colleen O'Reilly flew alongside Patterson, his wife and son from Washington, D.C. to West Point.

“It was our first airplane ride and it was in a five star plane, and it was storming so that we had to put our hands on the ceiling of the plane so our heads wouldn’t hit the plane,” Alvida said with a smile. “We weren’t scared because we were young, you know.”

She served in the WAVES until the end of the war in 1945. She then attended a medical tech college in Minneapolis before working for a private physician. During high school and throughout many years of her life, “Nobody worked except the men,” Alvida said.

While working in Minneapolis, she met her husband Jack, a Wadena native, who worked in advertising at the time and was from a “very strong Catholic family.” Over their 59 years together, their family grew to five children and 12 grandchildren; their three daughters are Barb, Becky and Sarah. She ran their Girl Scout Troop for 11 years and volunteered as a Tri-County Health Care Pink Lady.

Alvida enjoyed making fresh pancakes and always supporting her kids, as Jeff said. And she stays loyal to her sports teams and interests like basketball and football. Through it all, Jeff said she loves talking with God and “counts her blessings.”

“She’ll every once and awhile say, ‘I don’t want you to think I’m a doubting Thomas… but I wish God would just sneeze one time,’” Jeff said of one of Alvida’s phrases. The sneeze would be a sign that God is here.


Alvida has some classic phrases and stories to make people smile. Each year, the community smiles as funds are awarded to community organizations and projects through the Browne Family Foundation. A total of 157 grants, or $1,343,125, have supported community members as of December 2021.

Both Jack and Alvida shared their excitement about starting the foundation, and others in the area have started foundations.

A woman on an ATV.
Alvida Browne poses on an ATV for a photo.
Contributed / Browne Family

“It kind of spurred like, ‘Hey, this is good’ and then you start pooling more money through these foundations going back to these communities it really starts making a difference,” Jeff said. “I think that’s the beauty of the small town, people really do care about the community and … really we have a lot of pride on a new venture in our community.”

From homecoming queen to friend, first class petty officer, wife and mother, Alvida shares “God’s been good to me” and “God is good.”

Rebecca Mitchell started as a Digital Content Producer for the Post Bulletin in August 2022. She specializes in feature reporting as well as enhancing online articles. Readers can reach Rebecca at 507-285-7681 or
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