A positive attitude carried Edna Beggs for 101 years
Edna Beggs of Hudson died April 18 at the age of 101 at the Christian Community Home.
Beggs was interviewed last year on the occasion of her 100th birthday and she talked about the life she had enjoyed in Hudson.
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 College 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."
Beggs was hired by then Superintendent E.P. Rock. She remembered 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 remembered the period of his illness as difficult, she characteristically recalled what she described 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 was in Edna Beggs' decision to always look for that silver lining. On the occasion of her 100th birthday, friend Diane Gangl said of Beggs, "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."
In last year's interview Beggs said she was well aware of how the world had changed over the past 100 years. Although she didn't consider herself political, she recalled the first time she was able to vote and that she has voted in every election since. She remembered rationing during World War II and watched Hudson go from a prairie town to a city. But the changes in transportation over the past century impressed 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 headlamps 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 times we got stuck in some rut or hole. Now, it amazes me."
Her age affected her hearing most, but Beggs did not complain. She just asked people to speak a little slower and a little louder and she could hear just fine. And when she no longer could hear she said she was blessed with her sight and she would ask "callers" to write her notes.
Beggs said she was fortunate that she was in good health throughout her life. She took little or no medication save a tonic of vinegar, honey and hot water to ward off arthritis pain. Beggs concluded her interview last year by saying, "The Lord has been very good to me. I have been fortunate and I am grateful for all of my years."
Her church, First Presbyterian, held a celebration of her life on April 22.
Meg Heaton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.