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Monday, July 25, 2016

Conner: 'The last of the Mohicans'

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Laura Conner, a resident of Hillside Terrace Assisted Living in Spencer, is celebrating her 102nd birthday Friday, Aug. 10. The centenarian is an avid reader and bingo player.
(Photo submitted)
Laura Conner may oftentimes be a woman of few words today, but she knows how things should be done. It generally doesn't require many words when you are used to combining the roles of strict disciplinarian and devoted friend with those you come in contact with.

That's how Conner, who celebrated her 102nd birthday Friday, Aug. 10, at Hillside Terrace Assisted Living in Spencer, has always operated.

Born the middle of three girls to Ben and Bertha Philiph, Conner was the one assigned to help her father with chores. She and older sister Mabel Petersen, formerly of Osceola County, tended to the family's nine cows on their Dickinson County farm. Old Brownie was a favorite of the two sisters.

"Old Brownie was always good for a whole bucket of milk," Conner recalled. "She'd milk nicely - with Mabel on the left side and me on the right side - because she wanted to get rid of that milk."

Besides learning how to drive their Fordson tractor at a tender age, Conner also became a regular driver of the family's Ford car following her first solo drive. The year was 1923. The 13-year-old had just returned from church with her family.

"Everybody had piled out because nobody wanted to be sitting in the car with me. I got in, drove it up a back road and turned around in the neighbor's yard. I didn't know how to back up," she said. "I returned home and asked Dad, who was working in his machine shed, how to stop it. I was told to just turn the key."

Conner would go on to graduate from Hartley High School and Tempe University of Arizona.

"It was the only thing I ever thought of," Conner said of the education degree she received and her tenured teaching profession which ensued.

Conner began her 45-year teaching career at a country school in Westport Township in Dickinson County. She taught kindergarten through eighth grade students at the former Westport No. 5.

"Sometimes, I had seven grades that I was responsible for. As a teacher, you didn't have much time to spend with each grade then," she recalled. "Teachers nowadays don't know what work is."

Conner concluded her teaching career in Arnolds Park, where she instructed junior high students for 25 years.

"You had to be one to put up with them," she chuckled. "The last couple of years, we were departmentalized in Arnolds Park and I taught just English, grades five through eight."

Conner, who retired at the age of 67 in 1977, met James, her husband of many years, while working summers at her Uncle Al and Aunt Emma Ross' restaurant, the former Home Plate of Rock Rapids. The World War II veteran served as a chiropractor in Milford and Arnolds Park from an office in their home. The couple raised one daughter, Valerie, of Taloon, Minn.

After her husband passed away, Conner lived with her younger sister, Ella Barman, in a home along Grand Avenue in Spencer. She moved to Hillside Terrace Nov. 25, 2005, where the sharp-witted centenarian remains an avid reader and bingo player.

"It was my choice to move here because I'm the last of the Mohicans, or the last of my family. You get what you want here: You can have a lot of company or, if you don't want any, you don't have to have it," Conner said. "The Spencer Public Library librarian leaves me about three books a week. With bingo, I win my share and I always play to win here."

Her thoughts on turning 102?

"I just take it one day at a time, and this is just another day," said Conner, who also offered the following advice on living a happy, productive life such as she has: "Change with the changes and go with the flow."

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