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As she nears 100, former Superior woman remembers a different Douglas County

Woodrow Wilson was president in 1913. The 16th and 17th amendments to the U.S. Constitution were ratified that year. And the nation's first minimum-wage law went into effect in Oregon.

Viola White
Viola White, who turns 100 on July 28, sits in a Corvette Stingray. She started driving when she was 9 years old and got her first driver's license by filling out a form and paying 25 cents at the town garage in Foxboro. (Photo courtesy of Andy and Sue Schiestl)

Woodrow Wilson was president in 1913. The 16th and 17th amendments to the U.S. Constitution were ratified that year. And the nation's first minimum-wage law went into effect in Oregon.

"Those were the good old days," said Viola (nee Runser) Schiestl White, recalling the world into which she was born.

Born July 28, 1913, White was the youngest of four children born to Robert A. Runser and Valeria Barnard in a one-room log cabin 3½ miles south of Foxboro.

White was about a year old when the family moved to an eight-room house built by her father.

This month, almost 100 years later, White, who lives in Phoenix, is back in Superior to celebrate a century of life.

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"It's a long time," she said. "I lived here for many, many years in the house right over there," she said pointing to a house near North 21st Street and Lackawanna Avenue in Billings Park.

But her early years were spent in rural Douglas County in a time when few people owned automobiles and getting to Superior meant hopping a train.

"I went to a school that had all eight grades, and I walked a mile and a half to school," White said. "At that time, there were no cars and no nothing."

In fact, 1913 was the first year a sedan-style vehicle, a Hudson, was put on display at the 13th annual Auto Show in New York City.

"Once in a great while, our dad would take us (to school) in really bad weather," White said. That meant putting a horse team together and loading up the sleigh to get to the old Nelson school. Sometimes the kids would ride an old horse to school, then turn the horse around and send it back home, she said.

Trains were an important form of transportation for the family that churned its own butter and canned its own vegetables.

During the Great Depression, White said hobos would hop off the train and her father would give them jobs on the family farm.

"The railroad went through our property, and if anyone would get sick enough (that) they had to go to a doctor ... we would go down and wait in the box car on our property for a train to go by," she said. "Sometimes we would get in with the horses and the cows."

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White remembered her mother waiting 12 hours for a train one time when a toothache caused the side of her face to swell up.

Then they would wait at the depot in the city until the next train would take them home.

"You never knew when that would be," White said.

When the family finally got a car, it was a Ford. White was 9 years old when she learned to drive. Getting her license was as simple as going to the town garage in Foxboro, filling out a form and paying a quarter for the license.

However, getting to Superior then was still tough and "took forever," she said. The roads in those days were designed for horse-drawn wagons rather than the nation's early automobiles.

She said when she finished eighth grade, like her older sister, Mavis, she worked for room and board in the city to finish high school. She was just 12 when she started high school. Four years later she graduated.

"It was terrible," White said. "I would have quit every day if my mother didn't convince me to hang in there one more day."

During those years, she was able to take the train home once a month, but she had to bring along the children she was caring for to earn her room and board.

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"I wanted to be a teacher," White recalled. However, her mother had been a teacher and didn't want her to follow that career path. So White attended high school to learn business skills that allowed her do secretarial work. She didn't want to be a registered nurse like her sister -- her mother's preference.

"It didn't suit me," White said. She worked for the welfare department in Hawthorne, Solon Springs and Superior.

At 21, White married her first husband, Andrew Schiestl, with whom she raised four children -- Joan, Donna, Andy and Craig -- and lived many years in the Billings Park neighborhood.

"Our place, somehow or another, seemed to be the place in all of Billings Park where all the kids came," White said.

Andy Scheistl, White's oldest son, attributed the phenomenon to his dad's job at West End Iron and Metal. His father frequently brought home toys left for scrap that the children would play with.

"He would come home with a trunk full of toys, so it was like every day was Christmas," Andy Schiestl said.

Living across the street from the former St. Patrick's School, White also remembers school officials coming to her home to use the phone because the school didn't have one.

Her daughter-in-law, Sue Schiestl, said White has kept up with changes in technology over the years. Since 2000, she's had an e-mail account, and she got an iPad at age 97.

But living 100 years has meant living longer than her friends, and outliving two husbands: Andrew, who died in 1976, and Harold White, whom she married 10 years later.

She's looking forward to the gathering of friends and family planned for noon to 5 p.m. July 28 at the Superior-Douglas County Senior Center, 1527 Tower Ave.

She only has one worry: There won't be enough time to visit with everyone.

photo3
Back left to right, Mavis, Bernard and Robert Runser pose for a photo with their baby sister Viola, who plans to celebrate her 100th birthday July 28 in Superior. (Photo courtesy of Andy and Sue Schiestl)

Related Topics: DOUGLAS COUNTYSUPERIOR
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