Ollie Piehn of Harmony celebrated her 100th birthday on July 6. She will be the guest of honor at an open house on Thursday, July 31, at Clara House in Harmony. MELISSA VANDER PLAS/NEWS-RECORD
Ollie Piehn of Harmony celebrated her 100th birthday on July 6. She will be the guest of honor at an open house on Thursday, July 31, at Clara House in Harmony. MELISSA VANDER PLAS/NEWS-RECORD
Ollie Piehn of Harmony has known great love and wonderful friendship during her 100 years of life. After celebrating her milestone birthday on July 6, Ollie claims she doesn’t feel any older. However, as she looks back over her life, Ollie said she has had many “fun-filled days,” a 67-year marriage to her best friend and husband, Waldon, and many other friendships made through community organizations and her husband’s business.
Ollie’s story, however, begins 1914, when she was born to Laura and Fred Falck of Ridgeway, Iowa. She lived with her parents and a sister, Opal, on a farm until the family moved to Cresco, Iowa.
One of her claims to fame came from attending school in Cresco as she is a classmate of Norman Borlaug, the biologist from Cresco who has been called “the father of the Green Revolution” and won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in agriculture.
Ollie met her future husband, Waldon, in Cresco. He was from Alta Vista, Iowa, and worked in the jewelry store. They were married in 1937 at the Little Brown Church in Nashua, Iowa. They adopted two children, Jack and Linda, before Waldon’s father asked him to leave the jewelry business and join him at the phone company in Harmony.
“He was a telephone man the rest of his life,” Ollie said, “and I went right along with him.”
When they first came to Harmony, the Piehns rented a home and Linda vividly remembers the hobos coming to the house for food. “My mom always fed them,” she said. “I was so afraid of them and would run and hide when they’d knock at the door at night.”
Linda added she knew the hobos must have marked their home in some way to indicate a generous lady lived inside, but doesn’t recall ever finding that mark or knowing what it was.
In 1954, the Piehns moved into a home they built on First Avenue Southeast, just a block south of the phone company. That house, unfortunately, burned to the ground in 1970, on New Years Eve.
While most of their possessions were lost, several precious items were saved, Linda said. A china doll, a Mexican donkey and family photos were recovered and cleaned. The family hired some men to go through the rubble and Ollie said they did such a good job they even found some money she and Waldon had gifted to Jack for Christmas.
The photos were washed and saved, remaining in photo albums and family collections to this day.
The family lived in the Canton motel for a time after the fire, but then moved into Ollie’s father-in-law’s home as he had moved into the nursing home.
This allowed Ollie and Waldon to build their dream house, at the same location as the home they lost to the fire, designing their house using elements they had discovered through their travels.
“Mom and Dad were amazing decorators,” Linda said. “They designed the house together and when they traveled, they took photos of houses they liked.”
The family moved into their new home in the early 1970s and Ollie and Waldon lived there until his death in 2005. Ollie remained in their home until her eyes began to fail her and now resides at Clara House in Harmony.
“If she hadn’t lost her eyesight, I don’t have any doubt that she would still be living at home,” Linda said.
Ollie is a member of the Harmony United Methodist Church and has served in several capacities with the church circles over the years.
She was a member of the Photozatean Club, a group of women who met frequently at each others’ homes to learn different hobbies, share book reports, discuss topics of interest and socialize. Many of Ollie’s closest friends were members of this club and the Piehn’s long-time family friends were initiated through Ollie’s involvement in the group.
Ollie said she was also kept busy watching basketball and attending all of the activities her children were involved in. She also took pride in keeping a neat house and crafting.
Ollie would make her own greeting cards and spend time creating beautiful wrapping for gifts. She set a beautiful table and loved entertaining.
“She was such an entertainer,” Linda said. “They would host Fourth of July parties in the backyard with sparklers, themes and costumes.”
There were also parties for the Photozatean Club and friends.
“Mom was Martha Stuart before there was a Martha Stuart,” Linda added. “She always made sure she looked nice for Dad when he came home.”
Ollie and Waldon shared a deep love and affection for each other. Linda said they had a weekly date night when they went to Spillville every Thursday night to dance. They were able to see some Big Band greats including Lawrence Welk and Guy Lombardo.
“They always made their own anniversary cards,” Linda added. “We kids could never see them, they were so spicy!”
The two would go somewhere special on their anniversary, she said. “We never knew where they would go, but we knew they would always be together on their anniversary.”
Their love was always deep and true, Linda said. She recalled how Ollie entered the room where Waldon was on the day he died and he still acknowledged Ollie as “the best thing that ever happened” to him.
During their 67 years of wedded bliss, Waldon and Ollie saw their two children marry and have their own children. Ollie has six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren
While Ollie claimed her secret to a long, happy life was taking “one day at a time,” Linda laughed and told Ollie to share what the family believes to be the true reason she has lived to be 100.
Asking an innocent, “Why,” it took a bit of coaxing before Ollie admitted with a bit of a smirk that she enjoys a glass of Cutty Sark Scotch every night, during a 5 o’clock happy hour. Even when she has stayed in the hospital or care center for brief periods of time, she’s requested her glass of scotch.
No matter the true secret to Ollie’s long, happy life, she looks back over the years and has not only had true love, but also great friends and a supportive family. She remains active, enjoying getaways to the family’s cabin, going for short visits to her home and socializing with the fellow residents of Clara House.
In celebration of Ollie’s 100th birthday, her family will be hosting an open house in her honor at Clara House in Harmony on Thursday, July 31, from 3 to 5 p.m.