Submitted photo
Delone (Bjorge) Woxland of Rushford turns 100 on April 30. She attributes her long life to diet and exercise.
Submitted photo Delone (Bjorge) Woxland of Rushford turns 100 on April 30. She attributes her long life to diet and exercise.
A life bookended by fire and flood can still be a life well lived. Delone “Dee” Jewell (Bjorge) Woxland is a living example of just what that means.

She’ll celebrate her 100th birthday on April 30 with an open house at the Good Shepherd Home in Rushford.

Delone was born on April 30, 1917, on a farm near Harmony to Margaret (Harstad) and Martin Bjorge. She had one sibling named Captola (Cappie).

Woxland’s mother died in a house fire when she was only 16 months old. She and Cappie were raised by a paternal aunt, Marie Christiane, who gave the children a good life.

“I lived with a wonderful aunt and uncle, and they raised the two of us,” Woxland said. “I had a sister and went to school in Mabel. I had never been used to anything but a small town, so I got along fine there. You get very close to your class when it’s a small town like that.”

She found out three years ago that she wasn’t the only remaining member of the Mabel class of 1934. An internet search turned up her former classmate, Ernest Corson, so the two held an impromptu class reunion.

They’d only seen each other one other time in the 80 years since their graduation, so they had a lot of visiting to catch up on.

She graduated from Mabel High School in 1934 as valedictorian when she had just turned 17. She had several scholarship offers, but due to a lack of finances, she chose to go to one year of “normal training”.

“I went to teacher’s training in Preston after graduation,” she said. “If you did that, all you could teach was in the country schools, so I taught in rural schools for about eight years. I taught in different schools on all sides of Rushford.”

Although she was done teaching in one-room country schools after eight years, she wasn’t completely finished with teaching children.

After her children, Tom and Christy had grown up, she went back to substitute teaching for many years in Rushford and Peterson. She talked about the most enjoyable part of teaching.

“The kids,” she said simply. “At the country schools, they were taught to listen to their teacher, and they did. I never had discipline problems. I still keep in touch with some of my pupils.” While laughing, she said, “There aren’t many left. I keep outliving them.”

Married life and family

Dee married Sydney Woxland on Aug. 26, 1939, at the age of 22, and the couple moved to Rushford. She describes that time period as being poor, but they didn’t know it, because everyone else was poor at the same time.

When Syd was called into military service during World War II, Dee spent some time working in Washington, D.C.

“I went out to be with him during his last stay in the States,” she recalled. “It was near Washington, D.C., so I took the Civil Service test. You really didn’t have to know much to get a job there. I got a job in the Pentagon as a filing clerk.”

She had kept in touch with other people that worked out there, but noted the hardest part of growing old is “losing your friendships.”

Woxland did have a lot of friends and hobbies to keep busy with throughout her life.

“Outdoors, I loved to play golf. I never was any good,” she said. “Inside, I like to play bridge. It’s my favorite card game. We had lots of afternoon coffee and sometimes even in the morning. I had two sisters-in-law that lived near me, and we were always ‘coffee-close.’”

Woxland made many of her family’s clothes. Syd had a big garden of vegetables, which she cooked, canned and shared with neighbors. She has been a friend to so many people and fostered strong family ties.

She made holidays special, especially Halloween. She would make unique and competition-winning costumes for Tom and Christy.

The couple’s son, Tom, graduated from law school and married Carol Birkland while their daughter, Christy, became a nurse and married Jeff Tomlinson. Christy and Jeff have two children, Kate and Joshua.

Nowadays her grandchildren enjoy playing cards with her when they both try to “Get Granny.”

“I’m very blessed,” she said. “I have two grandchildren that I get to enjoy. The greatest thing is they both remember me as gramma and write to me and call me.”

Loss is a part of life

Unfortunately, the home that Dee and Syd built and shared in Brooklyn was destroyed in the Rushford flood of 2007. Her daughter, Christy, was with her that night, and she said it was frightening to go through that.

“When you get the message to ‘Get your clothes on, Mom,’” she said, “it was in the middle of the night, and we had to get out. You don’t think about it at the time, you just follow the orders (to evacuate).

“That was very traumatic to lose your house, especially when it’s the one that you and your husband have built. But there were so many people who had it worse.”

Syd was not alive to see the damage as he developed Alzheimer’s disease and died in 2002. The couple celebrated 62 years of marriage. Dee was dedicated to being a caregiver during his illness.

Secret to a long life?

Lastly, what does she think the secret is to be living such a long and productive life?

Woxland says it comes down to two basic things that people can do something about.

“Your diet and your exercise,” she said. “I have done both of them. I don’t think it’s good to just sit.”

Dee Woxland will have a birthday celebration and open house in the Community Room at the Good Shepherd Home in Rushford from 1 to 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 30. The public is invited.