Elsa Young is a storyteller with a sense of humor, has a great memory, is a gifted mother who went through some very tough times and is a dedicated worker. And she will be 102 next month.
Elsa was born in St. Paul on Feb. 12, 1916. Shortly after her birth, the family moved to Hutchinson, where Elsa spent her growing up years. Her father, Richard Dahl, was a key factor in the construction of the light plant in Hutchinson and served on the Utility Commission for 25 years.
Elsa worked at 3M in Hutchinson for 25 years until the mandatory retirement age of 65. Her first job was in the calculating section of the Tape Plant. After a few months she felt she needed a different job at 3M. She went to see the office manager.
“I’m a square peg in a round hole with this job,” she told the office manager. “Don’t you have something else for me?” A few months later she was given the job to organize the first official personnel office. Elsa called her time at 3M “the best job I ever had.” She had the chance to meet many interesting people and made a lot of lifelong friends.
As a child, Elsa’s favorite holiday was Christmas, but she remembered one sad day. She was a great believer in Santa Claus, who always came to their door on Christmas Eve, bringing gifts. However, her belief in Santa Claus was dashed when she was 11 years old.
After Christmas that year, Elsa was invited to play with a friend, Mary Ohman. As Elsa came through the back door, she suddenly spotted a Santa Claus costume and boots. She stopped and stared, and slowly the realization hit her: The Santa Claus suit and boots were just like what she had seen Santa wearing on Christmas Eve!
Without saying “hello” or “good-bye” to the Ohmans, Elsa turned abruptly, threw open the back door, and ran all the way home, “crying to beat the band.” When she burst into the house sobbing, her mother asked, “Elsa, what is the matter?” Elsa cried out in long, slow wails, “There isn’t any Santa Claus. Mr. Ohman is Santa Claus!” Years later, Elsa reflected, “That was one of the saddest days of my young life!”
There were tough times during Elsa’s growing-up years. She lived through the Great Depression, two world wars, and experienced life before there were telephones, televisions, running water, indoor plumbing or paved roads.
Her first job was with Eugene Carter Photography in the summer of 1931. “I got brown fingernails that summer working in the dark room, developing photos, and I earned the grand sum of 50 cents a day — $2.50 per week.” She learned later that her father had paid Mr. Carter the $2.50 each week. He figured that the work experience would keep Elsa occupied as well as reinforce the values of working hard, being on time, following directions and being responsible.
After graduating from Hutchinson High School in 1934, Elsa attended Hamline University in St. Paul, where both her mother and aunt Mary had graduated. She left Hamline University and went on to a business college in Portland, Ore., from 1935 to 1936.
When Elsa returned to Hutchinson she got a job as a secretary for an attorney in Glencoe. “I made the magnificent sum of $7 per week for working six days per week and eight hours per day,” she recalled. While in Hutchinson she reconnected with her former high school classmate Raymond Seeley at a firemen’s dance at the Hutchinson Armory. They began dating, and within a few months, became engaged. On June 19, 1937, they got married at her father’s home in Hutchinson.
It was 1941, and Ray and Elsa’s first child was born: David Allen. Two years later William Scott, their second son arrived. Ray was drafted into the Army in 1944 and was a military policeman with the 104th Division until 1945. They experienced their own “post-war baby boom” in 1947 when Barbara Jo was born and then her little sister, Kathleen Gail was born in October 1950.
After two boys, Elsa was thrilled to have a little girl. However, when she came home from the hospital and showed Barbara to her brothers, they were not terribly impressed. Four-year old Billy remarked, “You need to take her back. She’s no good – she hasn’t got any teeth!”
Elsa’s husband, Ray, died of spinal meningitis in 1952 at the age of 36, leaving Elsa to raise their four children by herself. “It’s not an easy task to be both mother and father to four children,” she observed.
After eight years as a single parent, Elsa married for a second time on March 26, 1960, to James Joseph Young. Jim lived in Hutchinson and was employed as the depot agent for the Luce Line Railroad Depot in Silver Lake.
Like Elsa, Jim had been married previously and had two daughters, Patricia and Connie. His first wife, Gladys, died of cancer at the age of 37. Like Ray, Jim was a World War II veteran. Jim and his friends raised funds to construct the American Legion in Hutchinson.
After a few years of dating, Jim asked Elsa if she would like to get married. Elsa made her expectations clear. “I’ll marry you if you promise to come home every night. Otherwise, I’m not interested.” Elsa and Jim enjoyed married life. One time, Jim wondered aloud, “I can’t figure out how we get along so well when my first wife and I had so many disagreements.” Elsa replied, “Don’t forget, we’re both older and have learned to pick our battles.”
Unfortunately, their years together were limited. Jim died of a heart attack on Jan. 11, 1963, at the age of 42.
Reflecting back on her life, Elsa thinks she did pretty well, despite the ups and downs. She is especially gratified that “my kids turned out well.”
Elsa knows she is not alone. After selling her home in 2015, she enjoyed living at Ecumen Oaks in Hutchinson for 18 months and is now residing at Lakeside Apartments in Dassel. In moments of both celebration and adversity, she is surrounded by family and friends who love and support her. She also draws strength from the words of her little Swedish grandmother who, when confronted with challenges, would always say, “Ve vill come over it.” Elsa’s life is a metaphor for the Swedish proverb, “Shared joy is a double joy, shared sorrow is half sorrow.”