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Barry Schrader


I wrote a column for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle for 8 years starting in December 2007 and running until November 2015. Then I returned to column writing in August 2016, all of them archived here.


If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.

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Cortland centenarian has advice for us all

By Barry Schrader Senior Columnist...................Sept 23, 2016

Two words: "Don't smoke."

That's what Orville Olson said when I asked if he had any advice for us younger folks on the eve of his 100th birthday. I had gone to his farm home north of Cortland to interview him in anticipation of his turning 100 on Sept. 26 and ended with the above question.

He expanded on that, explaining that his grandfather made a deal with him when he turned 12: He would give Orville a new bike if he promised never to smoke or drink (alcohol) his entire life. Orville eagerly agreed and got the birthday present. He has from time to time had a beer or glass of wine at a social occasion, but for the most part has steered clear of both evils.

Spending time with him was rewarding as he told life stories and family anecdotes that began not with him, but his father who came to America at the age of 19 and his grandfather Nelson on the other side of his family who bought the farm in 1889, where Orville has spent his entire life, and has no intention of ever moving.

About his birth: "When the time came, my grandmother, who was a registered nurse, sent word to Doc Nesbitt and he drove out here as fast as he could in his horse and buggy." That's when Orville was delivered at home, only a stone's throw from where he now lives in an adjacent house. His original family home was torn down and replaced some years ago and his daughter Andra lives there now.

But lets go back a generation when his father Otto came over from Sweden on a spur of the moment decision. A young friend came to his farm in Sweden late one night to say goodbye because he was going to America and Otto got excited enough to ask his father if he could give him the money to go with the friend. The father was obliging enough to round up the money to finance the trip. It took three weeks on a steamer, then waiting three days at Ellis Island in New York harbor, before they were cleared to take a train to Illinois, where the other man was heading to find his

Orville Olson outside his farm home with the family barn in background

Orville Olson stands behind the baptismal font he obtained from the Salem Lutheran Church when the old edifice was torn down. That was the font used when he was baptized there 99 years ago. (Barry Schrader photos)

sister who worked for a bakery in Sycamore. They finally got a train from Chicago to Cortland, then eventually found their way to Sycamore. His dad found a job as a farmhand, then later married his mother Edith Nelson and that is how the family ended up on the Nelson farm, which had been purchased in 1889.

Getting back to Orville, he went through the 10th grade in Cortland, which is as far as school went there, then transferred to Sycamore where he graduated in 1935. He is the only one left out of 76 in his class, Martha Wetzel being the last classmate to pass away, he said.

Asked about his early life, Orville told about his father being a dairy farmer who died from a heart condition at age 60. Orville milked as many as 35 cows after he took over the farm.They didn't get a power line strung past the farm until 1926 and that's when the family bought their first radio. Then they added a Motorola television in 1955. He has not joined the computer and internet age yet, but does have a small cellphone in his pocket that he showed me.

He has so many good stories I have scant room to tell any here. But here are a couple more for now: Starting when he was five, his mother and he would walk down the road to the Cortland train depot and take the morning short line train from there up to Sycamore to shop. Then late in the day they would get back into the single passenger car and come home. That same depot is where his father took their milk cans to be hauled to Borden in Chicago, he recalls.

He had a ready explanation for the antique baptismal font in his front room. That font was used at the Salem Lutheran Church to baptize him 99 years ago and then nine more members of his family. The old church was to be torn down and a new one built, so most of the furnishings were sold, and he got that font.

About his marriage: His first wife Elaine passed away at the young age of 58 from cancer. She had given him two sons and a daughter. Then several years after her death he was a patient at (the first) Kishwaukee Hospital and met this nice night nurse. It was one of the four times he had surgery, replacing two knees and then both hips. Soon after he recovered be began dating that nurse named Wilda and five years later they were married. Wilda is only 90 so she may outlast him. Between them they have eight grown children, and a whole passel of grand and great-grand kids.

It is worthwhile mentioning how many presidents he has seen-dead or alive. In 1923 when Present Woodrow Wilson died out west, the funeral train came through Cortland. It stopped so the baggage car door could be slid open to reveal the flag-draped coffin of the late President, but just for one minute. Then it moved on. Much later, around 1967 when he and his family were on a vacation trip to Philadelphia, President Lyndon B. Johnson happened to be in town. They waited in the crowd to see him and the kids actually touched LBJ's hand as he greeted well wishers. Not telling me which political party he favors, he did mention he has voted in every election since he was 21. He was also elected a township trustee from Cortland and served 33 years in that position.

I just about forgot to mention: He owns a 2008 Prius and drove over to the DeKalb DMV and passed his driver's test with no problem. Plus, he has three old tractors he has in the barn behind his house….

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115