Pelican Rapids woman always up for a new adventure

After a successful fishing adventure in Alaska, Iris was able to can 100 pints of salmon in one summer. Contributed photo

As the daughter of teachers from  Eau Claire, Wis., Iris (Friedman) Ohman, of Pelican Rapids, did not have a clue that her life would be filled with some daring adventures that were all given to her as gifts. However, she came from a strong family that believed in fulfilling their dreams. Her mother fostered independence by example,  being one of the few women to get her master’s degree in teaching in 1943. Iris followed in her parents’ footsteps and earned her own teaching degree from Stout University after graduating from high school. She was not to understand what a blessing this was until years later.

Iris married her college sweetheart, John Hart, a fellow teacher. They both got teaching jobs in Monticello, Minn., and  started raising a family. They had four boys. Suddenly Iris’s world was turned upside down when John discovered he had Hodgkin’s disease.  His life ended abruptly. Iris, now a single mother, was left with four boys ages 4, 8, 9 and 10 to support. Her degree in home economics and teaching helped keep the family going. Four years later,  she met Erv Ohman from Pelican Rapids. They fell in love and got married. The couple moved the family to his home in Pelican Rapids where Erv worked as a postmaster and had his own television repair business.  While raising the boys, now six, with two more from Erv’s former marriage, Iris did the books for the family business and occasionally some substitute teaching.

Now Erv turned out to be one of those husbands who knew his wife had an adventurous spirit, and he liked to foster this by buying her unusual gifts. The first gift he bought her was in 1977, a Goldwing 1100cc Honda motorcycle. Actually he bought it for himself, but when he let her drive it one day, he never got it back. Erv had to get another motorcycle for himself. The two spent many hours going on motorcycle rides with groups from Fergus Falls and on trips to Door County, Wis., Canada and Medora, N.D. Some trips included week-long traveling in the southern states.

The second unusual gift Erv gave Iris came at Christmastime in 1986. Erv knew of Iris’s dream of flying, spurred by her envy of her cousin who was a pilot.

“I always admired this cousin because she had her own plane,” she said.

In 1986, Erv Ohman bought his wife, Iris, flying lessons. Iris later bought a plane with some friends she met during flying lessons. She enjoyed flying for many years. Contributed photo

Well that Christmas, Erv had a surprise for her – flying lessons. Of course, once he gave her the lessons she had to do it. She was a little apprehensive at first because at that point she was 50 years old, but her instructor reassured her she would be fine. She spent 13 weeks in ground school and learned a lot about how to stay safe in an airplane. She remembered one trip she took with her flight instructor from Perham where he decided to teach her about how to stall the plane, how to keep your “nose” up, that included rolls and spins. She never got sick, but wondered if they were trying to shake her up because she was a new pilot.

At ground school she met some friends that lived near Pelican Rapids, and the four of them decided to buy a plane together – a Cessna 150 Aerobat. It saved a lot of money purchasing a plane with others. They made a schedule when they wanted to fly the plane. Iris would fly many hours when she first started. She took her family and all of her grandchildren up in the airplane. Iris said, “Things look a lot different from up there. You can’t believe how much water there is in Otter Tail County until you fly another direction.” She also had a chance to fly on an ultralight airplane where there was virtually nothing underneath her while she was flying above the ground. Having the airplane and flying was a great time in Iris’s life, but when Erv retired in 1989, they decided they needed a new adventure – traveling. So her and the guys who owned the Cessna decided to sell the airplane. Erv and Iris bought a motorhome which their children named “the Romin’ Ohman’s.”

Iris and Erv Ohman traveled to every state in the United States and all the provinces in Canada and Mexico. Contributed photo

In their motorhome, Iris and Erv traveled to every state in the United States, all of the provinces in Canada and to Mexico. They bought into the campground association, Coast to Coast, where they only had to pay $1 per night to stay at a campground. One year they went west, then next year they went east. Iris occasionally drove the motorhome on the straightaways. Iris recalled one traveling adventure, the summer when they took the motorhome on the Alaskan Highway-the Milepost. “We canned 100 pints of salmon that summer. There was a limit on how much fish you could take in a day, but you could can as much as you wanted.”

Fishing and hunting were part of some of the trips Erv and Iris went on. On their journeys, they also met many interesting people from all over. One couple they met from Nova Scotia invited them to go hunting with them. Iris said, “We researched it carefully and found out we could bring a certain length of gun through customs. But when we tried to bring the gun across the border, the border patrol confiscated it.” After they crossed into Canada, Iris went to the Royal Mounted Police, and they told her if she wanted the gun back she would have to have it sent back to a registered gun dealer. She made all of the arrangements, but when she got back home for Christmas the gun still wasn’t there. She didn’t get it back until the insurance company intervened.

Iris Ohman, of Pelican Rapids, at her home in Pelican Rapids. Photo by Deb Trygstad

Another fun traveling excursion Iris and Erv did was to work at Medora.  She said they signed up to work for one week at Medora, where you worked for six hours per day and they paid for everything. You got to stay with other “volunteers” in a beautiful hall, all your meals were paid for and you got to see the musical as much as you wanted. You might be assigned to work in retail or a restaurant or wherever you were needed. The week only cost you the price of getting there and any extras that you might purchase. Iris and Erv met many wonderful friends on their traveling adventures, and they still hear from many of them today.

There was one more gift that Erv was to buy Iris that could be considered a bit adventurous, and this time it happened on Valentine’s Day in 1992. At this point, Iris hadn’t been up in her beloved airplane for a few years.  So at age 55, Erv bought her skydiving lessons. Of course, Iris loved it.  She recollected there was a lot of instruction, reading and signing of papers. She said, “It was like signing your life away.”   When she recalled the event she said, “We sat on the floor of an older airplane, very closely with 10 or 12 other people, all who were going to jump out of the airplane.  Every person took turns jumping.” Iris was tandem jumping with one of the instructors, and she was responsible for pulling the ripcord. Iris said, “I was so busy looking around, amazed with the view, I forgot to pull the ripcord.” Luckily, the instructor remembered.

Erv and Iris Ohman, of Pelican Rapids, have been on many adventures during their marriage. In 1977, Erv bought himself a motorcycle. After Iris drove it, he decided to give it to her and buy another one for himself. Contributed photo

What other adventures lay in store for Iris now that she is 81 years old? She still loves to fish, and her and Erv take their boat out to different lakes in the area. She makes sure she brings her friends from her coffee club plenty of sunfish to keep them happy. Iris said she really would like to go on a hot air balloon ride, not just up and down, but really go somewhere. She also thought ziplining sounded fun. Iris said, “If you’re in good health and physically fit, you shouldn’t let your age prevent you from doing what you want to do.”

Gifts of adventure have a way to keep on giving with the memories that they leave. First there was the motorcycle, then the flying lessons and airplane, and finally the skydiving. Not to mention all the traveling Erv and Iris have done together. Erv knew exactly the right gifts to get his wife. Iris said, “Erv doesn’t mind me saying that he has always been trying to do away with me since he married me, first with the motorcycle, then flying lessons and finally skydiving.”