ROCHESTER, Minn. — Donna Anderson, who will celebrate her 102nd birthday in just a few weeks, is one of my favorite people and favorite storytellers. There are few things I like better than listening to her tell tales of growing up in Eyota, Minnesota, in the 1920s.
I recently asked her to tell me the story of her wedding, which took place just more than 82 years ago now. Here it is, in her own words:
“Red and I got married in Dover on a glorious September day in 1939. I remember the day so clearly: That morning, my sister, Red’s sister and I walked down the railroad tracks toward St. Charles to gather flowers. We’d bought professional flowers for the boutonnieres and lovely little bouquets for the ladies, but we couldn’t afford to fill the huge wicker baskets that adorned the alter at Dover Methodist Church. So the three of us picked all the black-eyed Susans and goldenrod we could find before hurrying back to the church to fill the baskets.
"The church was packed for the wedding, and it went off without a hitch. My mother had nine siblings and all kinds of relatives in Wisconsin, and I think everybody was there. Axel Boeson sang, some of my girlfriends sang, and Sybil Henry, who was about the only person in Dover who could play the piano, played.
"After the wedding, we had the reception in the Dover Town Hall. It was tradition that the ladies in Dover — and especially the ladies who were my mother’s friends — put on the reception. We had a big wedding table up front by the stage. My father-in-law was a partner in a cheese factory west of Rochester, so we had a big chunk of cheese on the table! It was such a wonderful time filled with people who were important to us. Like Mame, my neighbor. She’d held me at my baptism, had served as a second mother to me, and was at the table with the wedding party, too.
"As nice as the day was, we could hardly wait for the reception to be over so we could go to Rochester to go dancing. After we opened our gifts, we were off to the Valencia — this big, beautiful ballroom on the corner of 19th Street and Highway 52. It had this wonderful dance floor and they brought in famous dance bands. There was another dance hall in Rochester then, called the Playmor, but it had more old-time music. The Valencia had big band music, which is the kind of music we liked to dance to.
"There were six guys and six girls in our wedding party — including my sister, Red’s sister, her boyfriend, and my brother who was still alive then (he would be killed in World War II), and our ushers. And we all loved to dance. The Valencia used to have dance marathons and contests, and one time I won a contest. I won a table humidifier and my dance partner, Bob Nessler from St. Charles, won a big fancy smoker on a stand.
"The night of our wedding night, all 12 of us danced up a storm in our wedding finery. We were such good friends and it was such a wonderful time. The guy who owned the Valencia talked the band into playing an hour later for us because we didn’t get there at the beginning of the dance.
"After the dance, the guys decided they were going to 'kidnap' Red. But we found out where they were going to take him — it was this little park right across from the lapidary on 63 North. It’s developed now, but then it was all trees surrounding a little park. So the six of us girls followed the guys there. The guys split a six pack of beer between them and we had a six pack of Orange Crush for the six of us.
"I will never forget that night. Red died in 2008. But if he were alive, we would’ve been married 82 years in September.
"And I tell you, we danced the rest of our lives, right up until he couldn’t anymore. We met on the dance floor at the Rainbow in Eyota. We danced through our marriage in Rochester. And even in Arizona in retirement, where we lived for over 20 years, we danced twice a week. It was a wonderful time.”
Reach Jennifer Koski at firstname.lastname@example.org.