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Edna Beggs counts her 100th birthday among her blessings

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Edna Beggs says she is a "little short on blood relatives," but she is definitely long on friends and well-wishers, many of whom gathered Sunday to mark her 100th birthday. Relatives came from Madison and elsewhere across the state to celebrate, and former neighbors came from as far away as Tennessee to honor the occasion.

The party, one of several planned for her, is just another of the blessings she is grateful for in her long life. For her, the glass always seems half full if not sometimes overflowing.

Beggs was born Edna Phillips on Jan. 5, 1903, in Chippewa Falls. While she always remembers the family having electricity and a sewing machine, she says the family's main mode of transportation from her childhood until she left home to become a teacher was a horse and buggy or sleigh and cutter.

The country school she attended as a child is still standing. She attended high school in Chippewa Falls and boarded with a sister there throughout the week with her father picking her up every Friday evening to return home for the weekend.

Beggs attended Lawrence University in Appleton to become a teacher. In 1926 she came to Hudson to teach math and a typing class. "There were only three schools in Hudson at that time. There was the high school, the Fourth Street School and St. Patrick's original building across the street. For a long time it seemed like I knew everyone in town either through school or church (First Presbyterian of Hudson). But I haven't circulated as much the last several years and when I go out now, I hardly recognize anyone."

Beggs was hired by then Superintendent E.P. Rock. She remembers Rock as a very honest but rather strict leader. One year Rock gave her only 24 hours notice that she would be teaching a bookkeeping class during the upcoming school year. While she had taken a bookkeeping class, the subject was not her favorite, and she didn't consider herself very adept at it.

"But I wasn't about to give him the satisfaction of saying I couldn't do it. I burned the midnight oil that night, and the funny thing is, I learned to really like bookkeeping."

The experience came in handy. In those years, married women were not hired as teachers. Upon hearing of her impending marriage to Walter Beggs, a lifelong resident of Hudson, Superintendent Rock told Beggs she would not be given a contract for the upcoming year.

"I lost my job when Walter and I married in 1941. But after World War II started, I was asked to come back to help fill a vacancy left by a man teacher who had gone off to fight. Mr. Rock expected that all his teachers would attend night functions at school. It was considered part of your job. I didn't care to do that so I turned down the job offer."

Instead she went to work for the Erickson family business. "I had the Erickson children in school. And here I ended up working for 10 years as their bookkeeper."

Beggs met her husband through his aunt and uncle. She was boarding with them, and Walter lived right next door. After they were married, the couple lived at 806 Oak St., where she stayed until she was 90. She describes her husband as "very patient to put up with me." She and Walter were married for 27 years. He died of cancer at the age of 72. While she remembers the period of his illness as difficult, she characteristically recalls what she describes as a blessing in the experience. "Walter was a wonderful man. He told me if he couldn't be well, then he was content to be taken. That was a great comfort to me."

A fortunate life

Perhaps the secret to her long, healthy life lies in Edna Beggs' decision to always look for that silver lining. That is what attracts her friend Diane Gangl. "She is such a positive lady. I think of her as a mentor. And there are lots of women who feel that way about her. She is independent and so gracious. She has seen so much but it has never overwhelmed her. She accepts change better than most people half her age, and handles it better than I do. I have never heard her say an unkind word. I treasure her."

Beggs is well aware of how the world has changed over the past 100 years. Although she doesn't consider herself political, she recalls the first time she was able to vote and that she has voted in every election since. She remembers rationing during World War II and watching Hudson go from a prairie town to a city. But the changes in transportation over the past century impress her the most.

"I started my life using a horse and buggy. Later we had cousins who had an open automobile. You had to take a match to light the head lamps if it got dark. And you only drove a car in the summertime. It went up on blocks during the winter. When I first came to Hudson from my home, the road wasn't even paved all the way. And many were the time we got stuck in some rut or hole. Now, it amazes me."

Beggs said her hearing is what is most affected by her age. She has no hearing in one ear and the other is failing, even with the assistance of a hearing aid. But Beggs is not worried. She explains that if you speak slowly and a little louder, she can hear just fine. And when she no longer can, well, she is blessed with her sight and she will ask "callers" to write her notes.

She is an avid reader and letter writer and one of the joys of her birthday celebration was in opening her cards and reading their messages. She daily reads devotional material and a newspaper and goes over the Star-Observer front to back every week. She is currently reading "Tuesdays with Morrie," along with several magazines.

Beggs feels fortunate that she is in good health; she takes no medication save a tonic of vinegar, honey and hot water to ward off arthritis pain; and that she remembers as much as she does.

Although he had heart disease, her father lived to be 91-plus years old. "He was a farmer when it was work with a shovel and a pitch fork. He worked very hard and learned to manage his heart trouble. And he was only in the hospital once for the 24 hours before he died. I think I take after him.

"The Lord has been very good to me. I have been fortunate and I am grateful for all of my years," Beggs said.

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Meg Heaton
Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
(715) 808-8604
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