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Ruth Jacobson Benson

Nevis Public School to celebrate 100 years

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news Park Rapids, 56470
Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

"Real Estate Booming in Nevis" a headline on the front page of the Enterprise read in October 1912.

"Without a doubt, this year will far outstrip any previous year in the number of farms sold and new settlers who have moved into the vicinity," the newspaper reported. "From now on until the snow arrives will be the best season of the year for sales and a good many more settlers are expected this fall."

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In response to this burgeoning population, a school district was organized.

A headline in June 1912 declared, "Nevis wins over Akeley."

In May, the "Nevis Boosters" started a movement toward rural school consolidation. Three districts were included in the plan, which was approved by voters.

Residents had earlier okayed a $17,000 referendum for building a new consolidated school house in Nevis.

But the move rankled Akeley residents, who moved, through court procedure, to stop the bond issue and presumably the construction of the school.

"But judge Wright ruled in favor of Nevis on the question raised," the Enterprise reported. "The Nevis delegation went home jubilant after a strenuous day."

The Nevis School would open in the fall of 1913, welcoming students in grades one through nine. The classes would increase to 12th grade level as students advanced.

Come May, the 2,000th Nevis graduate will receive a diploma.

And come July, Nevis alums will descend on the city in celebration of the school's 100th anniversary, Class of '32 alumna Ruth Jacobson Benson and Dorothy Bohnsack Odlaug - who've remained friends through the years - the grand marshals for the parade.

"Shouldn't I have a crown?" Ruth quipped when Pauline Wambold, who's in charge of rounding up alums, asked if she'd accept the honor during the July 20-22 event.

Hoopster extraordinaire

Ruth, who will celebrate her 98th birthday in July, recalls traveling to school on a horse drawn sleigh in the winter, and hopping aboard the truck delivering ice in spring and fall, Mr. Potter behind the wheel.

Summers were spent on the lake.

Born on Lake Belle Taine in 1914, her childhood was, in many ways, idyllic. Parents Norman and Bertha had emigrated from Norway as children. After marrying, the couple homesteaded 55 acres on a third of a mile of lakeshore on Belle Taine just after the turn of the century.

The family lived in a dugout for a year, Ruth, the youngest of five children, said of her father building their house.

The family farmed, but as means to augment income, "we sold real estate," Ruth said of lakefront property sold to wealthy families arriving from Oklahoma and Nebraska.

"Dad sold lots, at $5 per lineal foot. Mom did laundry for them," she recalled of summer residents arriving via train. "My parents took care of the places."

Ruth sold the milk, butter and eggs produced on the farm.

She remembers having phone service long before electricity, which came in the 1940s.

The home where Ruth now resides on Belle Taine's southern shore, Co. Rd. 80, was then owned by a judge and his family from Oklahoma, arriving with a cook and a nanny. "The nanny stayed in the ice house, the cook in the attic," Ruth recalled.

"Most of the people were fairly wealthy," she said, the ladies wearing "big hats and khaki clothing," to avoid the sun.

But the families embraced the Jacobson kids.

"At 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. we all congregated," she said of heading out to the swim raft and diving tower.

Come fall, Ruth once again boarded the wagon, heading into school. Despite being the shortest player, she became captain of the basketball team. "I was five-foot two, but I was fast and hit the hoop.

She assesses her academic ability as average. "I got by." Basketball was her passion. The Nevis Muskies (their name at the time) traveled off to play Hackensack, Park Rapids, Akeley, Walker and Laporte. "We beat the heck out of Laporte."

She recalls getting behind the wheel of a Model T at 12 or 13 years of age, "graduating to a Model A."

One of her vintage photos shows classmate Chuck Lambert standing by his Air Force plane, "Ruth" in bold letters on its nose.

"And I still remember the day we ran into those guys," she says, grinning at memory of making the acquaintance of a skinny dipper, who would become her husband.

Two fellows in their late teens from the Cities stopped by the house to inquire about camping. Ruth's dad suggested a spot on the Crow Wing River, just south of their farm. A while later, Norman, Ruth and her sister walked down to the spot.

"I saw two fellows running fast," Ruth recalled, as her dad cautioned, "You girls wait a minute..."

Once clothed, Ruth would become acquainted with Clarence "Benny" Benson, the two marrying in 1936.

After graduation, Ruth moved to the Twin Cities, her first job handing out sale bills on a corner. She would also work at Power's Department Store, Benny's sister a buyer for the store.

The newlyweds built a house in the Twin Cities, and by the late '40s began renting a cabin on Belle Taine, come summer. As soon as school was out the family, which now included Carol and Tom, headed north.

The Bensons purchased the home where Ruth resides in 1956.

"All the lakeshore had sold, but I hadn't lost my love for this place," she said. "I liked Minneapolis. I was lucky enough to have both."

She attributes her long life to "clean living," chuckling when she adds, "And a glass of wine every evening.... It takes care of the germs."

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