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Anna B. Ahlquist


Posted By: S. Ferrall - IAGenWeb volunteer
Date: 9/12/2011 at 22:21:42

A Lucky "Hello" Girl

The friends of Miss Anna Ahlquist, of the Paint Creek (Iowa) Farmers' Telephone Company, contend she is the most popular telephone girl in Iowa, and they have evidence to show for this belief, while at no time wishing to detract from the winning graces of the other thousands of operators in the Hawkeye state. The Paint Creek Company is a mutual concern, built, owned and managed by the farmers of Allamakee county and the surrounding territory, which operates 600 telephones in a district east of Waukon to the Mississippi river. Not long ago the members of the company and their families gave a picnic, which was attended by nearly 2,000 people. The service of the company was under discussion, naturally, and the work of Miss Alhquist at Elon, where the central office is located, came in for much appreciation. The suggestion was made that her services be remembered in a more substantial manner, and in a short time a purse of $125 was collected as a gift to her. Representative W.S. Hart made the presentation speech.

Miss Alhquist was almost carried off her feet with surprise, but made a response which showed how deeply she appreciated the compliment. The accompanying portrait, which was furnished by H.A. Hendrickson, of Waterville, secretary and treasurer of the Paint Creek Company, fully corroborates the impression that Miss Alhquist is a hearty, healthy, corn-fed Iowa maiden with a sunny disposition that goes far to help make a courteous, and efficient telephone operator.

~Telephony, Vol 14 No. 5, November 1907; by Harry B. McMeal; page 272
~The photo on the left accompanied this article
~Note: Throughout this article Anna's surname was spelled Alhquist. It is not a typo.


Allamakee County Woman Veteran at Switchboard
by Mabel Medary, Gazette Correspondent

Waukon - A switchboard operator for the same telephone company for 45 years is the record established by Miss Anna B. Ahlquist. Operator of the Paint Creek Farmers Telephone Company exchange at Elon, in Allamakee county, she is the dean of "centrals" at Waterville, Harpers Ferry and Church. She took over the job at Elon when she was 18 years old. There were 17 divisions and no toll lines on the board at that time. She now operates 25 farm lines, day and night, seven days a week. She sleeps on a bed near the switchboard. Some days Miss Ahlquist handles as many as 300 calls between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. She seldom takes a day off, but when she does her job is filled by two relief operators.

Calls can be made through the Elon exchange to Waukon, Watervile, Harpers Ferry and Church. A rural telephone operator frequently is called upon to give public service, such as to summon assistance at farm fires, announce the postponement of a meeting and so forth. On such occasions Miss Ahlquist puts in a general line ring which calls all patrons to their phones.

Fancywork and sewing are Miss Ahlquist's hobbies. She also likes to read and is active in the work of the Center Baptist church.

When two years old, she was paralyzed in one leg. "It probably was polio," she says, "but in those days nobody ever heard of polio."

Many changes have taken place during the 45 years Miss Ahlquist says, but some of the first patrons are still on the lines she serves.

~Cedar Rapids Gazette, March 25, 1951
~The photo on the right accompanied this article


Anna Knows Vices of 3 Generations
by John Reynolds, The Sunday Editor

Waukon - she heard voices, but there was always someone there.

For 46 years these voices together with buzzings and bells, have been ringing in the ears of Anna Ahlquist of Elon, tiny crossroads community five miles east of this Allamakee county seat city. No mystic phenomena, these sounds; there has been good reason for each syllable, each buzz, each ring. Because for all those years, little gray-haired Miss Anna Ahlquist has been a telephone operator for Elon.

There at "central" in her own home, she stood guard 24 hours a day to serve the 300 or so subscribers on Elon's lines together with some 500 others on other central connections of the Paint Creek Farmers Telephone Company.

The Paint Creek phone organization reputedly is Iowa's largest farmers phone company, serving an area of many miles between New Albin, on the north, Waukon on the west, the Mississippi river on the east and going nearly to McGregor on the south. In addition to the central station at the Elon crossroads, the company had centrals at Churchtown, Waterville and Harpers Ferry.

This week after a figurative lifetime at the little telephone switching center, Anna Ahlquist will retire, will go to La Crosse where she will spend the winter with her mother and a sister. In her place at Elon will come Freda Grant of Waukon, to be the operator.

Anna Ahlquist is typical of the legion of "little people" who serve quietly year after year in their appointed places, without fanfare and oft times without even proper recognition. In this respect she is typical. In many others, she is outstanding.

Miss Alquist has, for instance, memorized the individual rings of all of her phone subscribers. But that is not too unusual. And in 46 years one might expect an operator to have those various rural ring combinations at the very tip of her ringing fingers.

But what bulks as quite unusual is the fact that Miss Ahlquist has memorized the voices of her subscribers for three generations. "Not many of them fool me," she says with a quiet little laugh. People Miss Ahlquist knew as youngsters of years ago have married, become parents and grandparents during the near half-century she has served them.

Her devotion to duty for the phone company and the little Elon switching center can be measured in a few very practical ways.
1. Although in "the earlier years" she used to take "little vacations" now and then, she has had no regular vacation for some years.
2. For most of those 46 years she has slept within three feet of the central switching board.
3. With few exceptions, she has had little or no relief help. Two persons, one of them her sister, have helped out in case of emergency, particularly in recent years. The sister is Mrs. O.H. Johnson. The other woman who has served as a relief operator is Mrs. Melvin Smedsrud. Both live in the Elon neighborhood.

The Paint Creek Farmers Telephone Company was founded 49 years ago. It was a healthy, growing communications network when Anna Ahlquist went to work at the Elon central 46 years ago last September. For six years she worked as an operator while the house on the windy hill at Elon ws occupied by the Wallins family. Forty years ago, Miss Ahlquist and her mother purchased the house and she was on her own as a central operator.

Last week, as she reviewed her plans for retirement, her concern was over leaving the house - not the job. "It's a little hard to walk out of the place that's been home for you so long," she said. And there was a small plaintive note in her voice. "But when I get away from the job, I'll be through with it. I've been thinking it was about time that I quit. And while I'll hate to leave the house, I'll be glad to get off this windy hill."

Even as Anna Ahlquist talked, the wind howled over the high knobs of rugged Allamakee county land around Elon. The doors in the house blew open. The windows rattled. "It's always been like that. The wind up here is really rough sometimes," Miss Ahlquist said.

Despite the wind and the work and the almost never-ending vigil over the voices and the buzzings and the bell-ringing, Anna Ahlquist won't forget the parts of her job that were interesting. For one thing, although she was chained to her work by its demands, she was "in" on everything. "A central can't help but know what's going on in the community." And if there was anything big, the little bespectacled, gray-haird operator knew about it early.

When she started on the job, horse runaways created quite a few accidents. Now it's the automobile which makes that kind of news. An on many occasions in modern years, the operator at Elon has been called upon to summon ambulances or other help in the wake of a motor mishap.

If it was a crime, Anna knew about it too. "They usually ring me and tell me to get the sheriff for them." In times of fire emergencies, the Elon telephone central operator rang the "general" summons which told the whole community about the fire, and also summoned the nearest farmers' fire truck.

If weather caused the postponement of church services, Anna Ahlquist was asked by the pastor to pass the word by a general ring. If school was to be closed at Waterville during its "mud vacation," the chances are good that rural residents first learned definitely about the closing from Anna's ringing.

Back in history, Anna had some really rough days which stretched into weeks and months of work. She'll never gorget the influenza epidemic of World War I. The telephone traffic in those days was exceptionally heavy as the lines carried words of illness, death, calls for the doctor, calls for the undertaker.

In World War II, business was on the upturn because of the number of men calling home from camps all over America. On two different occasions, Miss Ahlquist handled overseas calls to folks in the Elon neighborhood.

As she neared the end of her career for the Paint Creek Phone Company last week, Miss Ahlquist recalled that she has worked at three different types of telephone boards in her central office. The first of these, she remembers with a chuckle, was a little on the old-fashioned side. "It had bells all over it," she laughted. The present board was installed in June of this year.

In spite of an average of some 300 phone calls a day, Miss Ahlquist managed to do a lot of fancywork during her years at Elon. "And when I get away from here, I'll still be doing that," she said. She expects to sew for people at LaCrosse. "I'm sure there will be an opportunity for me to do that kind of work in a city as large as LaCrosse."

Born in Sweden, Miss Ahlquist was an infant when her family came to America. They lived for a time in Clay Center, Kan. and in New Mexico, before coming to Allamakee county. Probably because she's had little opportunity to see the world in the last 46 years, Miss Ahlquist hopes for an early chance to visit members of her famly in Washington, D.C. "I've been to Minneapolis and St. Louis, but I've always wanted to see the capital."

~Cedar Rapids Gazette, November 4, 1951


extracted from an article titled "History of Elon Store Reflects History of Many Small Towns", by Madonna Storla ........

.... the Paint Creek Telephone Company established an office in the home of Anna Ahlquist and her mother. Anna, who was handicapped, was the soul of efficiency. Polio left her unable to walk without crutches. She was famous for her ability to always remember a voice, and while many of the patrons were unknown to her, she knew who they were when they placed a call. When the new telephone systems were begun, Anna retired and moved to Waukon. She later resided at the Good Samaritan Home in Waukon.

~Postville Herald, December 3, 1986


Anna B. Ahlquist's parents were Andrew O. Allquist & Anna Olson, both natives of Sweden. Anna Olson's parents were Olaf Olson & Bertha Larson

~1925 Iowa State census


Iowa Deaths: Anna Ahlquist, 93. Funeral: Thursday, 1:30 p.m., Center Baptist Church. Friends may call after 3 p.m. Wednesday at Martin's.

~Cedar Rapids Gazette, Tuesday, March 18, 1980


Ahlquist, Anna B.
1887 Mar 04
1980 Mar 16
Buried Center Baptist cemetery, Center twp.



Allamakee Biographies maintained by Sharyl Ferrall.
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