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Happy Birthday, Marie

Marie Elton Reitan looks back on her first 99 years

To some, birthdays are nothing but a reminder of the graying hair and deepening wrinkles, but for Marie Elton Reitan it marks almost 100 years of living.

July 18 marked the 99th birthday for Reitan, who resides in Lake Oswego, and has two daughters Diane Zoller and Marian Li.

She moved to Lake Oswego in 1998 to be closer to her family.

Even though she has 99 years of life under her belt, she relished her earlier years the most.

Reitan was born in rural Williston, N.D., in 1909.

Her father, John Elton, traveled to the United States in 1904 from Norway and later met her mother Emma Erickson.

Reitan enjoyed her farm life and especially remembered snatching the hens' eggs from the hen house and feeding the lambs.

Playing with her two brothers, Norman and Lawrence, was also an enjoyable pasttime out on the farm. During the summer months she would attend summer Bible school, and later help out with Luther League, a church youth group. She also liked to attend ball games, go fishing, travel and spend Friday nights in town because the stores would stay open late in the evenings.

During the fall and spring, she attended a school that was across fields with fences that in the winter were filled with snow, she said.

'(I remember) crawling under fences with my lunch bucket with my two brothers,' Reitan said.

She attended District 7, a one-room schoolhouse where she learned to read, write, spell and even how to speak English as a second language. Her native language is Norwegian.

The schoolhouse had two black boards and was a showcase for art from their last period art class on Fridays. The school also had a small kerosene stove for the children to use to heat up their vegetables, like corn.

Reitan enjoyed her schooling and remembers that her teachers arrived early in the morning to build a fire in the early winter. Due to the amount of snow in the winter months, the school closed from December to February.

She also was a musician. She played the piano at home and mastered the organ at school, playing songs such as 'Work for the Night is Coming.'

Fourteen children attended the small school, which had two outdoor toilets, but its small size was beneficial for games, such as anti-over - where the children would throw a ball over the roof from one side to the other - tag, last couple out and ball games.

When school was over, Reitan's father would frequently come to pick up the three siblings in a horse and buggy on his way into town.

When she was just 9 years old her family packed up and moved to Hawley, Minn., arriving by train in 1918.

Another fond memory for Reitan was learning how to knit from her mother. She later put this skill in use when she knitted mittens and socks for the soldiers in World War I.

She also remembers learning how to drive on the farm from her mother in her uncle's Ford car. In 1924, her father bought a Dodge car, when she was around 13.

In 1928, Reitan graduated from high school and went on to at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., where she graduated in 1932.

'Those were great days,' Reitan said. 'Very fun!'

Numerous family members have attended Concordia throughout the years. Zoller is one of them.

After college, Reitan began working at the Children's Home of Lake Park in Minnesota where she enjoyed teaching the children in the elementary department.

During this time, future husband Hans Christian Reitan frequently brought candy and a favorite magazine of Reitan's.

'I have such a sweet tooth!' Reitan said. 'Chocolate, no matter where (it was from) it was good.'

After they were married, Reitan's husband joined the Army during World War II. He mainly handled chemicals for the military but after the war ended he disliked talking about what he did.

While her husband was away, Reitan stayed in the family farmhouse with one of her brothers.

As technology for the home life advanced, Reitan saved up $200 in dimes to purchase her first refrigerator.

Her later life consisted of working in the church and singing in the choir.

Zoller is an active member in her church, Our Savior's Lutheran Church located in Lake Oswego.

Zoller remembers when growing up how her mother would knit Christmas stockings and how the house was decorated for every holiday.

She also thinks she has figured out the secret to living as long as her mother has.

'She is a very positive.

'If something doesn't go her way then she doesn't get upset about it,' Zoller said. 'She just lets it go.'

As Marie Reitan reflects on these last 99 years of life, she only has one thing to say:

'I had a very good life,' Reitan said. 'It wasn't terrible or exciting, but it was good.'