Betty Dahlin, 100, holds a photo of her and her husband the late Ernie Dahlin. She was born in Nebraska, raised in Wyoming, educated in Iowa and California and came to Paris during World War II when he husband got a job managing the former Butler Specialty Company. (Suzanne Williams/The Prairie Press)Pauline Eagan, 102, has spent her entire life in the Paris area. (Suzanne Williams/The Prairie Press)

Centenarians Celebrate

Two local centenarians have followed different life pathways but both agree the key to longevity is family and creating fond memories.

Pauline Egan celebrated her 102nd birthday in March, and Betty Dahlin turned 100 years old at the end of September. Both women are residents of Life’s Journey Senior Living in Paris.

“I have a clean life, a good husband and raised kind children. My life has been full and zesty,” said Dahlin, who was born in Lincoln, Neb., September 28, 1917, the daughter of John and Mae Grisinger. She was the youngest of four children and in her good sense of humor refers to herself as a child as being, “a wild west gal.”

One of Dahlin’s fondest memories is being on stage at age four along with her sister, Margaret, as talented dancers along with acrobatics performing in local theaters, schools and clubs. The siblings were both dressed in ornate costumes handcrafted by their mother.

“At one time, believe it or not, I was very agile,” said Dahlin raising one eyebrow and smiling. She continued to explain her sister, who was seven years older, taught dance in Wyoming, where the family lived, and often choreographed the routines and performances.

“Years ago if you wanted to be a dance teacher you would attend a dance school in a neighboring town and take notes then come back home and teach the new steps and routines. That way my sister always had fresh steps and dance routines,” said Dahlin.

Not only was Dahlin a talented dancer she was also an athlete playing softball, basketball, tennis, golf and swimming.

Dahlin recalls suffering from diphtheria, a serious bacterial infection that affects the mucous membranes of the nose and throat, at the young age of 7. Now, the illness is rarely discussed because of modern immunizations that prevent the disease.

“I almost succumbed to it at a very young age. I lost one year of school and had to make up the work. This was a time when shots and vaccinations were just beginning,” Dahlin noted.

Dahlin attended the University of Iowa and was named president of Alpha Delta Pi sorority before she transferred to the University of Southern California. She graduated cum laude from USC in 1940.

“I hate to talk about myself, but I was an honor student. There were several women in college, and we kept up with the men. If they could do the work then we could do it better,” she said proudly adding, “It was an exciting time to be young and unencumbered. I was an English major and used to write short stories.”

She said one of her favorite forms of entertainment was attending college track meets.

Two years after graduation, Dahlin married her husband Ernie Dahlin in Burlington, Iowa, March 21, 1942.

Dahlin has fond memories of their courtship. Ernie Dahlin was older and in the Navy. She was working as a stenographer for RK Company at the time they met.

“Ernie was in the Navy and he was older by about 10 or 12 years. Honestly, I never stopped to count,” she said laughing. She added her husband was an only child who grew up in Minnesota. He was of Scandinavian descent on his father’s side, and his mother was French Canadian.

“He swept me off my feet,” she said.

Dahlin recalls meeting her future husband on Easter Sunday in California when she went to meet a plane to take the young man to a fine restaurant for the holiday.

“The plane flies in and we go to greet him. I was shocked to see a man standing in the door with slacks on and with no luggage or a carry-on bag. His clothes were loaded with the necessities. He had tucked away a toothbrush in this pocket and a razor in another pocket. His clothes were literally loaded down with what little items he needed,” said Dahlin.

“Here everyone was dressed up for Easter Sunday dinner and he looked rowdy dowdy. So his parents, a wonderfully gallant man and a beautiful French woman, changed the reservations because of his dress. He was an only child and they would do anything for their Ernie.”

Dahlin continued to describe Ernie as looking like a misfit that day the two first met.

“He looked like a guy you wouldn’t let in your back door. However, it turned out he was a nice guy. In fact, my friends couldn’t believe I married him. The couple was married for 42 years before Ernie passed away in May 1984. “I didn’t straighten Ernie out. I kept him straight,” said Dahlin with a large grin on her face adding, “And the rest is history as they say.”

The couple had four children Nanette, Brock, Debra and youngest son Gris and lived in Burlington, Iowa, where he was in charge of a furniture factory. However, with World War II in full swing, the furniture factory sold out and he was forced to seek employment elsewhere.

Dahlin explains they heard about a company in Paris, Butler Specialty Company, that manufactured pieces for a larger furniture factory in Chicago.

Dahlin recalls the couple made an early visit to Paris and purchased a brand new house on the edge of town before she went back to Iowa to gather the four children and their belongings while Ernie set up house and began managing the company.

“It was a brand new house so we had nothing to work on, just enjoy it and our family,” Dahlin explained. “We bought and paid for the new house and everything fell into place. Little did I know we would live here for the rest of our lives.”

The trip back to Paris with the children proved to be one of her most favorite memories.

“It’s quite a climatic story,” she stated.

Dahlin explained after packing up the kids and loading the family car, she left Iowa in the middle of a snowstorm to move to Paris.

Just as Dahlin and the children crossed into Illinois the car spun out on the ice and snow and came to rest in a ditch.

“Gris, who was only 4 years old at the time asked if we had been in cyclone,” Dahlin added. “We couldn’t see anything but white snow. I told the children to use the telephone poles as guides and visualize the road in between the poles so that our car remained on the roadway. I knew we couldn’t stall the car and we had to keep going. There was no time to be scared. We were traveling with food and luggage so I knew we were safe.”

She recalls getting closer to Paris when she began following in an automobile's ruts in front of her. At that time, she had lost her sense of direction and when the leading automobile turned she followed it.

“The leading car turned left, so I turned left. And 14 miles later we arrived in Paris,” said Dahlin, noting the ride was a bonding experience with her children.

They were relieved once they finally reached Paris and arrived at the new house to find Ernie eagerly awaiting their arrival.

“I thought my husband would say something complimentary when we arrived. However, he didn’t. He simply asked ‘Why didn’t you stop and put on the snow tires?’” Dahlin once again began laughing and said that continued to be a family joke for many years after.

Following their arrival in Paris, Dahlin enjoyed looking after their children, the children’s neighborhood playmates and the family’s pets. She has great memories of the children playing hide-and-go-seek, going to the movies and ice cream along with enjoying their neighbors and friends.

“You haven’t lived until you take a group of young children to the movies. You think you have it all organized and thought out but as soon as you walk into the theatre the boys are as if they have not brains at all and have lost all common sense,” chuckled Dahlin discussing some of her toughest moments raising her children, adding, “We had quite a lot of fun and the children enjoyed growing up in Paris.”

In addition to her memories, Dahlin remains steadfast about one very important lesson she believes is essential to living a long and full life.

“Be unto yourself and be true,” said Dahlin. Her advice to younger people is simple, “It’s the same basics as before. If it doesn’t seem right to you to do it, then don’t because there is a reason you feel that way. And if it is not proper and there is no reason for it to be said or done, then don’t,” Dahlin said adding, “Once my mom took me in the closet for a swat for being sassy. I learned to keep my mouth shut and listen. My advice is don’t try to do all the talking,” Dahlin concluded.

Much like Dahlin, 102-year-old Pauline Egan values family which is evident as Egan’s face lights up with expression and she displays a large smile when staff members mention her family.

Egan was born March 15, 1915, at Paris, the daughter of Jacob and Mary Sunkel. She attended and graduated from Paris High School before going to work at the age of 18 at the Edgar County Bank.

Six years later, she married Leo Egan and the couple began their family at which time she became a homemaker. The couple had six children, John, Sharon, Diane, Bob, Jerry and David and Egan was then a full-time stay-at-home-mother. She was active in the children’s activities such as 4-H, Scouts, school functions and high school athletics. Egan also served as a Cub Scout leader for many years.

Egan and her husband were married for 46 years and enjoyed living on a farm in rural Paris.

According to Egan’s children, she was a city girl but only moved to the farm when their father promised he would build an indoor toilet inside the family home.

Egan’s hobbies have included sewing, cooking, scrapbooking and quilting. She is a member of the St. Mary’s Catholic Church where she was a member of the St. Mary’s Altar Society.

One of Egan’s fondest memories is of her friends playing a card game.

Egan created a bridge club at the age of 16 with her friends. According to her family, she played with the same group of friends for more than 50 years.

The Prairie Press

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