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Ella Myers Zarwell


Posted By: Errin Wilker (email)
Date: 2/3/2007 at 00:06:21

Ella Zarwell Honored

Mrs. Ella Zarwell of New Albin celebrated her 90th birthday on Sunday, May 30, at her home. Members of her family and friends stopped by in the afternoon for cake and ice cream and to wish her a very happy day. She received many birthday cards, flowers and gifts.

Ella is in excellent health and does all her own housework. Shortly before she did her spring housecleaning she sewed herself two more dresses. She does all her own sewing. She attends church regularly, Women’s Fellowship meetings, and is a member of the Royal Neighbors. When the weather is good, she walks down to the grocery store to do her own shopping. Congratulations, Ella, for being such a remarkable “young” lady.

~Allamakee Journal, Lansing, IA, June 1982 (the photo of her with the birthday cake accompanied this article)

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Ella Zarwell - New Albin's Grand Matriarch

Ninety-nine years is the blink-of-an-eye in geologic terms, but it is, indeed, a very long time in human terms. Ella Zarwell has lived to celebrate her 99th birthday, but she is still very young at heart. The world is a far different place today than it was when Ella grew up in Jefferson, Minnesota. This little town, once located a few miles north of New Albin, no longer exists, but it remains alive in the memory of 99-year-old Ella, New Albin's oldest resident.

The Early Years

Born in rural Houston County, Minnesota, on May 30, 1892, to John and Irene (Tippery) Myers, her two-year-old sister, Clara, (Clara Darling, now deceased) awaited her arrival. A brother, David, came along several years later, much to the delight of the girls. Tragically, he died at about the age of three but time has not erased the memory of that terrible day for Ella.

The Myers family eventually moved to Jefferson after leaving their home in rural Houston County. Ella and her sister attended a one-room school in Jefferson with a dozen or more other students. The girls enjoyed "playing house", but Ella's real love was the great outdoors!

She recalled fixing up a fish pole from a willow, a string and a bent pin. "We caught fish, too. We were regular river rats. We'd rock the boats till they'd be full of water. None of us could swim, but no one drowned. In winter we'd have fun on the ice. The men sank a rail on end and attached a pole to the top to make a kind of merry-go-round. It may still be there."

John Myer, Ella's father, was a commercial fisherman and she was always by his side. "I was his good pal." she remembered fondly. Fishing, hunting and trapping kept the Zarwells busy and much of what they harvested was packed in barrels and shipped to various cities.

Bad Times - Good Times

Ella almost met an early demise as a young girl. While out on the islands with her dad, she accidentally jumped into a nest of swarming bees. Wearing a dress and being barefoot, nearly every part of her body was stung. Bees were still in her clothing when her dad finally got her home. The doctor thought it was a miracle she survived with so much poison in her system. "I've always been strong - been through a lot," Ella stated.

Ella has had some good times, too! Dances were held at the drop of a hat in any available building - barn dances were particularly popular. News of a dance was spread by word-of-mouth and a good crowd always showed up. Sometimes they danced till dawn and then put in a full day's work! Ella soon discovered that she would rather dance than eat! It was at one of these dances that she met her future husband, Henry Zarwell.

Love And Marriage

Ella and Henry were married in 1909, in the Methodist Church of New Albin. She was 17 years old. The trip from the Myer horne in Jefferson was made by horse and buggy. Following the ceremony, traditional wedding pictures were taken by a professional photographer. Two hundred guests joined them back at the family home for a reception dinner. Later that evening, Ella and Henry hosted their guests at a wedding dance in a hall which had once been the local store. It was a perfect way to end such an important day in Ella's life.

Working For $1 A Day

The Zarwells were blessed with three children, Floyd, Herbert and Gladys. All of her children were born at home with the assistance of the local doctor. Ten days of bed rest was the standard procedure at that time. The children attended the little one-room school in Jefferson, but the nearest high school was in New Albin. Ella could see the value of a good education and insisted the family move to New Albin when the boys reached high school age.

"Mr. was working in the country for farmers and I'd be horne alone all week with the kids." After Henry began working on the railroad, he was home more often. Ella feels her kids grew up to be more independent than most. They learned to do many things for themselves,even some of the cooking. She was busy house cleaning for other families and took in washings to earn a little extra money. "I got a $1 a day for house cleaning. You can't get someone to even look at your house for that now days." she laughed.

Near Tragedy On The J.S.

One adventure Ella will never forget is the trip she, Henry and baby Floyd took on the steamer, the J.S. In the summer of 1910, some of their friends asked them to join them on an excursion to La Crosse. Henry didn't care much for the river and preferred to stay home. Ella wouldn't hear of it and said she was going with or without him. Henry went along. The boat left Lansing at 8 a.m. with about 1,200 people on board. Upon reaching La Crosse, Henry suggested they return home by train. Ella declined his offer.

As luck would have it, on the return trip, the J.S. caught fire about a half mile north of the Iowa border and burned almost completely. The Zarwells escaped from the burning boat with their baby and were forced to spend a cold night on an island with the rest of the passengers. Two people died in the incident and the others were rescued the following day by local residents from both sides of the river. "Henry never went on another boat," Ella stated, "but it didn't stop me. I never missed a trip."

Almost every little town had regular passenger rail service then. With Henry employed by the railroad, Ella was entitled to free rail passes. She and a friend, who also had a rail pass, made use of the four passenger trains that stopped in New Albin daily. They would hop on the morning train headed to La Crosse and return on the evening run after a long day of shopping. "Oh, the times we had on the train," she laughed.

Full Life And Few Regrets

The farthest Ella has traveled from home is to the Canadian border. "I always wanted to go out West, but couldn't get Mr. to go," she lamented. It is one thing she regrets not having done, but her regrets are few.

Ella has lived in her present home for 45 years, the last 30 years by herself. Meals-on-wheels is handy for her, but she still enjoys cooking. She has 8 living grandchildren and 1 deceased grandchild, 10 great-grandchildren and 1 great-great-grandchild - five generations of Zarwells! Her family gives her great joy and comfort, but she has known her share of grief.

Henry Zarwell passed away in 1961. Besides Ella's brother, David, she has also buried one son, Floyd, and one grandchild, Neil. She has survived several major surgeries and has never complained about how hard life can be.

Keeping Pace With The Times

Ella keeps up with important issues in the world. In her own small way she is doing her part in trying to improve the environment by sorting her garbage so the paper, plastic and tin can be recycled. "Might just as well do it," she said. "It's not that big a chore and it does some good." While Ella is well aware of the environmental problems we face, she finds many other things to be concerned about in today’s world. In her opinion, money is being wasted on the space program and weapons while children are starving; more people are getting cancer than in years past; crime seems to be on the rise and not much is being done about any of it "They're spoiling the world more every year not improving it," she said. It saddens her to see what has happened to this world in her lifetime.

Ella's great love for her family has sustained her through hard times. She feels lucky to have both her children, Herb and Gladys, living in New Albin. Herb stops in every day to see if she needs anything. "The nicest thing that ever happened to me was raising my three kids, because I was with them all the time,” Ella smiled. Picnics on Whalen Hill and nutting expeditions in the country were all part of growing up around New Albin when Ella's children were small.

Thirty-four years ago, Ella recaptured some of those good times when she took a number of her grandchildren on a similar picnic up on Whalen Hill. Her grandchildren still talk about the fun they had on that beautiful day with "Grandma." Ella's great love of nature has fIltered down through the generations. "If it's natural, it's good," one grandson has often been heard to say. Seeing Ella lovingly surrounded by her family members to celebrate her 99th birthday seemed very natural and it was definitely good!


Source: Allamakee Journal, Lansing, Iowa, 5 June 1991

Photos of Ella in 1982 & 1991


Allamakee Biographies maintained by Sharyl Ferrall.
WebBBS 4.33 Genealogy Modification Package by WebJourneymen

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