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Former Nevis teacher is a centenarian

Pearl Olson

Pearl Olson marked a century of living Tuesday.

Arriving in Nevis in 1933 - just out of St. Cloud Teachers College - she taught first grade for decades.

A brief stint as Rosie the Riveter in California during World War II and housewifery would interrupt her role as an educator, but she was back in the classroom in 1956, retiring at 65 in 1977. "It was mandatory," she said.

"It seems like yesterday. I wouldn't know I was 100 if people didn't remind me."

But that's not attributable to poor memory, rather her buoyant spirit.

"She's very witty," daughter-in-law Marvel Olson reports.

"Make me look like Hedy Lamarr," Pearl quipped when the camera was raised.

"And she likes to stay on top of things," Marvel said. A daily newspaper is at her side at Heritage Living Center. "She reads it every day," treasuring clever anecdotes.

Pearl Burfeind was raised in the Twin Cities, her father, who worked for the railroad, serving as Robbinsdale mayor.

"I told my mother as a little girl, 'I'm going to teach school,'" Pearl said. After two years of college, she arrived in Nevis, the Park Rapids Enterprise reporting, "New first grade teacher begins work."

Courting followed.

A janitor at the school introduced her to her future husband, Olaf "Ole" Olson at a Nevis basketball game, she recalls.

Legend has it, she dropped her glove under the bleachers; he retrieved it. "And we went walking," Pearl recalled of her late husband. "We've been walking ever since," she said of strolling together, meeting friends, sharing conversation. "We had no money, so we walked and talked."

During World War II, Ole was in the Army in California and Pearl followed him to the West Coast.

The couple was married in California, where their only son, Robert, was born. They returned to Nevis in 1947 and farmed on a homestead south of Nevis for six years. Ole subsequently went to work on the Iron Range and Pearl returned to teaching first grade, in 1956.

"John Smith was my little first grader," she said of the district court judge.

"Eat right, be nice and have the right kind of parents," she advises, referring to her mother, Julia, who lived to be 101.

"You can't live without a sense of humor. With all the things happening...

"It's been a good life," the great-grandmother said, attributing friendships to her longevity.