Harriet Nelsen, 102, died Monday, November 5, 2012 at the Thief River Care Center in Thief River Falls, MN.
Funeral service will be held at 2:00 P.M. on Thursday, November 8, 2012 at Grace Lutheran Church in Grygla, MN. Burial will follow at the Saint Olaf Cemetery, Grygla, MN.
Visitation will be one hour prior to the funeral at the church on Thursday.
Harriet Irene Knutson Nelsen was born in Willmar, MN, on Sunday, October 4, 1910, the daughter of Thomas and Bertha Irene (Paskewitz) Knutson. She was baptized December 4, 1910 in Willmar. Her family moved to the Grygla area in 1911. Harriet was confirmed May 25, 1924 at the Spruce Grove Schoolhouse near Grygla.
Harriet attended school four miles from her home. She and her brothers and sister would normally walk to school, but during the cold winter months they were unable to make the walk. It was during these times that her mother taught her to read and write, so she was able to start in third grade and skip to sixth grade. At the age of 13, Harriet started high school in Thief River Falls. She graduated from Lincoln High School in 1929. Following in her mother’s footsteps, she had hopes and dreams of becoming a teacher. This led Harriet to Bemidji State College in the fall of 1929 for one year of school. Because times were tough, she took time off to work in order to help pay for college. With her parents help, she was able to back to college at Mayville State. She received her two-year teaching certificate to teach in rural education for grades 1 through 8.
1932 found Harriet at her first teaching job at Thorholt. There were 36 pupils in grades 1-7, aging from five years to 17 years. Along with teaching the students Harriet also had to build the fire, sweep, scrub the floor, carry in the wood, and water. She was paid $65 a month and in appreciation to her parents she bought her mother a ringer washing machine and a cabinet radio.
In 1936 Harriet accepted a teaching position at Nebish, MN. Through this experience she gained wonderful friends and met the love of her life, Harold “Bill” Nelsen. On Easter Sunday, March 23, 1940, Harriet and Bill were united in marriage near Grygla at the home of her parents.
Harold left for Alaska to work while Harriet finished out the school year. She joined him in June that year and spent the next year teaching the Eskimo children in a remote location in Alaska that was accessible by plane. This brought a variety of experiences for Harriet including cooking in a gold mining camp, flying with a brush pilot, freighting lumber on a skow (flat boat), helping in a commercial store, and having to conduct a funeral service for one of the girls that she taught. In 1941 together they moved back to Grygla where Bill farmed in Spruce Grove Township while Harriet taught in the rural schools in Beltrami and Marshall counties. After the rural schools were dissolved in 1950, Harriet taught in the Grygla school system until her retirement in 1975.
Although she retired, she continued to substitute teach at the elementary school. She always appreciated that she never lost track of the children nor the changes made in education. According to Harriet, “Old teachers never die, they just lose their class!”
Harriet was an active member of Grace Lutheran Church, serving in the past as Chairman of the Altar Guild. She was a Historian for both the Senior Citizens and the Lioness. Harriet was a charter member of the V.F.W. Auxiliary and the Lioness Clubs, belonged to the Agassiz Retired Teachers, and was a Charter Member of the National World War II Memorial Society.
Her family will remember Harriet as a special part of their lives. They would like to thank all of Harriet’s friends, neighbors, and the entire Grygla community for being an important part of hers.
Harriet is survived by her sister, Helen Reise of Bemidji; many nieces, nephews, great-nieces, great-nephews and their families.
Preceding her in death is her husband, Bill and her brothers, Clinton, Bud, and Thomas.
Transcribed by: Cheryl Srnsky