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Still rollin’

Morris woman has zest for life, and a love of the lanes

Even if she wasn’t a bowler, Melvina Larson, of Morris, would still be in a league of her own. She is approaching her 92nd birthday, and with her snappy sense of humor and positive attitude, she continues to bowl one night a week with her team in the Lucky Strike Bowling League.

She also possesses strength and determination – characteristics that can be seen throughout her lifetime. This spunky gal grew up Melvina Wevley in a family of 14 children, seven boys and seven girls. “People still call us Weverly, but there’s no ‘R’ in there,” she explained.

Her family moved from Highlandville, Iowa, to Rothsay, Minn., in 1928 when she was just 6 years old. The Wevley family spoke Norwegian, and the children went to a Norwegian school in Highlandville. Learning a new language wasn’t easy. “I had such an awful time. I was fighting it, but I made it,” she admitted.

In 1936, she received a red velvet diploma. “I graduated from country school with a diploma. First one in the whole Wevley family who got one,” she proudly shared. “Eighth-grade, that’s all the further I went. And I’m proud of that diploma, too, I tell you that.”

As a small girl, Larson worked on the family farm. “I learned how to milk cows. We had one cow, Black Clara Bell, that wouldn’t move her tail even if the flies were eating her up,” she remembered. “We had names for all of the animals.”

From milking cows to spike pitching for the trashers during harvest time, the strong, energetic girl did it all. “I did everything on the farm that anyone would want to know,” she remarked. “The only thing my dad wouldn’t let me do was plow because I got too close to the ditch bank. I guess I thought you were supposed to plow the ditch too,” she chuckled.

The Wevleys farmed with teams of horses. Larson shared how her dad would come in from the field to listen to Oxydol’s Own Ma Perkins. “He loved that program,” she said. “I would unharness the horses and they would roll around on the ground and then dad would take out the other team.”

When she was just 13 and going into the eighth-grade, she picked potatoes for the neighbor right across the road. After that, she and her friend Francis followed the potato digger to Wolverton, Minn. They picked 100 bushel of potatoes each day at 2 cents per bushel. “And they were good potatoes then – boy they were big,” she boasted. When it was raining the girls couldn’t pick potatoes so Larson would go inside and help the farmer’s wife. She worked there many years and would go home in the winter. “I’d go home to my mom – she was the nicest mom,” she said with the softest of smiles. She had a good relationship with both of her parents and worked many hours alongside her dad on the farm. “That’s why I get along with men better than I do women, because I worked outside with the men all of the time.”

She was married to her first husband at the age of 21, but later divorced him in 1962. The couple was married for 19 years and lived in Morris. They had three children: Robert, Ruth and Violet.

With great fortitude, Larson supported herself and her children by cleaning homes and businesses. She worked for one family for 44 years. Later she was a nurse’s aid at the Villa in Morris (now the West Wind Village). She wouldn’t consider receiving any assistance, even though people told her she should. She maintained, “If I can work, I’ll feed my own kids.”

It was in 1962 while working in the home of Walt and Liz Ross that Liz asked her to come out and bowl one night a week. Walt and Liz owned the bowling alley in Morris. “Oh, I don’t know. I can’t afford it,” she said. Liz retorted, “You can afford it Mel – you work so hard!” And thus began Larson’s bowling career. She even cleaned the bowling alley and worked with Liz making hamburgers in the bowling alley kitchen.

She worked tirelessly to support her children, even working up to 18 hour days for an entire year. But, it was while waitressing at the Eagles Club that she met her second husband, Carroll (Kelly) Larson, of Hoffman. Kelly was the manager at the Eagles. The two were married in 1966, and sadly, a day before the couples’ 8th wedding anniversary, Kelly passed away from cancer. The two had one son together, Kelly.

Larson continued working until the age of 76 and kept driving until the age of 80. “I told the kids when I get to be 80, I’m not driving anymore. They didn’t believe me, but on my 80th birthday I put a for sale sign on my car, and in two days it was gone, and I haven’t driven since,” boasted the lady with the vibrant personality.

For four years she bowled in three different leagues each week. She bowled in Morris and Starbuck. Now her daughter Violet takes her to the Crystal Lanes in Morris where she faithfully bowls in one league every Tuesday night from September through April.

There have been many pins, many friends and many memories throughout the years. One young bowler once bragged to Larson and her sister-in-law, Bertha, “It’s going to take a good bowler to beat me.” Bertha quickly replied, “Well, we’ve got one!” Larson recalled the evening with a gleam in her eye and said, “She bowled a 222. I bowled a 260!”

There have been a few health issues in Larson’s 52 years of bowling, but don’t think these issues set her back much at all. In 1987, she had a total hysterectomy and 18 years later developed breast cancer and had a single mastectomy. And in 2012, she blew out her knee while bowling, but continued to bowl the year out and only used her walker for two days. She doesn’t like to miss bowling and when asked what keeps her going she said, “People who say, ‘Oh my leg hurts. Oh my back hurts. Oh my arm hurts,’ I say, forget about it! Take a couple aspirins and go bowl. That’s my motto: Forget about your aches and pains and go bowl.”

Larson’s highest game was 275. “When I was a good bowler I had a 165 average,” she began, “But now, do I dare say it is 109. I had it up to 129.” She hasn’t bowled a perfect game of 300 yet, but she vows to “keep on tryin’!” There have been many awards in her career, and she proudly displays her trophies and plaques in her home, including a refrigerator door full of “high game” magnets. Dick Ross, whose father built the bowling alley in Morris, declared Larson the “Oldest Bowler in Stevens County.”

Beyond the game, she mostly enjoys people and having a good time. And her league teammates of the past five years would likely not be the team they are without her. “She is the joy and fun in our team,” teammate Cindy Riedner revealed. “I know she will always have a smile and because of that she gives energy to our team.” Riedner also added that she is always encouraging to others. Teammate RaNae Morton commented on Larson’s enthusiasm for the game, “I know she counts the days until the next week. I think the day after bowling she’s ready to go again.”

In her spare time, Larson stays busy by making quilt tops, throw pillows and baking cookies. Recently she made 42 quilt tops for family and baked 72 dozen cookies that she sent to loved ones.

It has been said that bowling is a sport for people with talent to spare. This saying couldn’t be more fitting for Melvina. But, in addition to talent, she has the respect of others and a personality that shines more than the lanes in which she bowls. She plans to play the game as long as her team will have her and that is likely to be a long time as her team agreed that she is their mentor and their inspiration.

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