A Life Well Lived
I didn’t know Alberta well. She was my mother-in-law for only six years. She died Tuesday, August 13, 2019, at the age of 100 years, 9 months, and 9 days. I met her almost seven years ago. She was 93. I am told that at the age of 91 she had a stroke, and that her personality changed after that. She was not quite as self-assured, outgoing, and a helper to all any longer. I will share with you what I know about Alberta. She definitely had an interesting life.
Alberta was born in Creston, Iowa, to Paul and Hattie Knudson Allen. Paul worked for the railroad and eventually moved the family to Kansas City, Missouri. During the depression, the biggest bank in Chicago couldn’t cash his paycheck. It seems as though Alberta’s family did not suffer like others during this hard economic time. Alberta had a sister, Virginia, who was 14 years older than her. Alberta had a horse named Gold Dust Tony. She lived a good life during the depression.
I don’t have any information on the Knudson side of the family, although just recently Dennis (my husband) received information from a lady living in Sweden, who was a match to Alberta’s DNA. The Knudson family originated from Norway. Hattie’s mother was a young lady who would ride her horse out to the Indian Reservations in Iowa, get their attention, and then ride her horse back to the safety of her home after they started chasing her on horse back. She died as a young mother in a fire at home, that her daughter, Hattie, witnessed. There is little information I have on the Allen family, but I do know that Paul’s parents were Swan (1848-1937) and Carolina S. Allen (1858-1898). Both families were Norwegian, and immigrated to Iowa sometime in the late 1800’s.
As an adult, Hattie had a fascination with all things Hollywood. When her daughter, Alberta, was 14 and was approached by a photographer to be a model, Hattie enthusiastically agreed. A couple of Alberta’s girlfriends were already modeling, and she had gone with them to one of their photo shoots, when she was discovered by this photographer. Alberta modeled for the local Kansas City department stores and businesses, and was in many beauty contests.
One of the more interesting modeling jobs Alberta had was for Nelly Don. Nell Donnelly was a dress designer in Kansas City. As a young woman, she was unhappy with the clothing available to women. The dresses most homemakers purchased had no style, were made of cheap fabrics, and cost sixty-nine cents. Nell thought women should look beautiful even when washing dishes. She proposed to the local department store in Kansas City, to manufacture pretty dresses to sell for $1.00. The department store didn’t think these “expensive” dresses would sell. With Nell’s persuasive selling, the department store made an order for 200 hundred dresses, figuring these would not sell. Two of Nell’s friends and neighbors were hired to sew these dresses she designed. The dresses sold out immediately, and thus, the Nelly Don line of dresses became a national success. When Nell Donnelly met Alberta, she said Alberta had the ideal figure for her dress designs. Alberta also got to keep these fashionable dresses that Nell designed. I will not go into more of the story of the Nell Donnelly who later remarried a Missouri senator, and was kidnapped by the mob. There is a a rare DVD video about her story, or you can also read about her online. She was an interesting first boss for Alberta!
Alberta continued modeling after she completed high school until the United States entered World War 2. She quit modeling and started working at the Remington Arms Lake City Army Ammunition Plant. Upon doing an excellent job manufacturing bullets, she was promoted as a final inspector of the ammunition before being sent to the military. Many of the coworkers did not like working with her, because her inspections were stringent, and she rejected much of the ammunition as not being ready to ship. Alberta said she wasn’t going to send faulty ammunition to the young men risking their lives for our freedom. She was truly a “Rosie the Riveter.”
Alberta met her husband, W.R. (Bill), at the plant, where he was also employed after his time spent in Hawaii as part of the Merchant Marines. Alberta and Bill eloped five days after meeting, and then announced their wedding in the newspaper. She and Bill were married for 43 years, until Bill’s death. Alberta has been widowed since 1988.
She and W.R. had three sons, Dennis born in 1946, and twins Bill and Dave born in 1949. They started their marriage living on the family farm, but later W.R. became a salesman, and the family moved several times over the years, to Springfield, MO, Memphis, TN, and Fond du Lac, WI, just to name a few locations. The Walker boys were always the new boys at their schools. Alberta always made these moves an adventure for the boys, telling them about the new places and the new friends they would make. After the death, of W.R.’s father, they moved back to Sampsel, Missouri, to work the farm. The Walker boys spent their time working the farm with their dad. Farming was not the dream Alberta had for her sons, and all three sons went to college, and became successful professionals. The farm is still in the family, with the land being rented to local farmers.
As times were tough on the farm, Alberta took a job as a supervisor at the State Training School for Girls in Chillicothe, Missouri, also known as the Chillicothe Industrial Home for Girls. This was the latest and greatest way to care and rehabilitate young girls instead of putting them into the prison system with incarcerated adult females. While she worked there, she was promoted to interim director. They wanted to hire her as the director, but she did not have her college degree. Alberta took an early retirement in order to care for her husband who had become ill. Alberta was a retired pensioned State of Missouri employee. During this time of retirement, she and her husband spent many of their winters as Snowbirds in Apache Junction, Arizona.
After W.R.’s death, Alberta wanted to move into town, so she designed her own home, and found a builder to build it for her in Chillicothe, Missouri. She was very proud of this home. She entertained family and friends for years in this home. Alberta was an expert player of Ponytail Canasta, and played weekly with the “girls” in Chillicothe until she moved to Columbia, Missouri, at age 95, when she entered an assisted living facility. On occasion, she would return to Chillicothe for a day to play cards with her friends until she became to frail to travel.
I loved hearing stories about her and her adventures over the years. When Alberta was in her early 90’s, she would drive from Chillicothe to Trenton, Missouri to attend Wesley United Methodist Church. This was about a 20 mile drive, and she had a heavy foot, and was speeding over 90 mph. She got pulled over by the local police, and the officer asked her why she was driving so fast. She told the officer that at her age, there wasn’t too many exciting things she could do any longer. Yes, she received a speeding ticket! She was a bit embarrassed by that and didn’t say anything to anyone. The following week, everyone at church knew about it, because being from a small town, all arrests and tickets were published in the local newspaper. Busted!
Ever since Alberta’s modeling days, she was very precise about looking good. As a model, she woke up everyday, her hair and make up done perfectly. She told her boys that if she got a call for a last minute modeling session, she was always able to take the job because, unlike her other modeling friends, she didn’t need any extra time to get gussied up. She continued this practice all her life. She was perfectly dressed, with hair, nails, and makeup. She said she never knew who might knock on her door, and she wanted to be presentable at all times. Having only sons, she was thrilled when her first two grandchildren were girls, living in the area, and they played “beauty salon” often
Alberta was so healthy over the years that she celebrated her 90th birthday by taking her sons and daughters-in-law (before my day) to Cancun, Mexico for a week to celebrate. She even went bike riding with everyone on that vacation.
Alberta was all about family. She was so proud of her sons, and their accomplishments. She also loved her daughters-in-law. She loved seeing all her grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She gave them advice on life and investing.
In 2014, at the age of 95, Alberta sold her home, and moved to Columbia, Missouri to live in an assisted care home. She chose Columbia because it was close to two of her sons. Although, she lived close to the third son, his wife was going through some health issues at that time. Therefore, the other two brothers could help out with Alberta, if necessary. She had her own apartment within this facility. She did well there for a couple years, until she started falling. She gave us a real scare three years ago when she fell. She hit her head and actually had a brain bleed. She was severely bruised down one side of her body. What did Alberta do? She bounced right back! She had thirty days of rehab and she worked out on a stationary bike, and got her strength back, and she worked hard to get all her memory back. It was amazing to see the remarkable recovery she had. As the years moved on, Alberta did not recover from anything as well or as quickly as that. She was definitely slowing down, but who wouldn’t when they are in their mid to late 90’s. We sometimes referred to her as the Energizer Bunny because she just seem to keep going and going.
Dennis and I traveled a lot when we first got married, but had slowed some of that down as Alberta was becoming more frail. We could travel more again at a later time. The last year has been a tough one for Alberta. In August of 2018, she got pneumonia. It was hard, but she recovered. She was also moved to a skilled care nursing home, where she lived the duration of her life. It was hard to move to a new place with new help and new residents. She struggled being there, and wanted her family around her a lot.
Alberta was tired. She was ready to go. She would say that she didn’t know why God hadn’t taken her yet. She was at peace with dying.
I realized that dying is similar to giving birth. Near the end it is very uncomfortable. It seems like that uncomfortable time will never end. There is nothing we can do about it. It is all in God’s timing. Then when it happens, you look back and see the timing is perfect. We have our own timetable, and God has his. His is always perfect.
Alberta passed away at age 100, 9 months, and 9 days old. She lived an amazing life. She saw things in her lifetime that changed the world, from the use of a crank telephone on the wall to a smart phone today. She saw music from being played on a Victrola to stereos and electronic devices. Televisions came later in her life, and were small and in black and white, to the large screen color televisions we have today. For the last five years, she read all her books on an iPad. She could make the font large enough for easy reading.
Alberta saw many presidents, and war. She was born almost two years before women had the right to vote, and when she became eligible to vote, she never missed an election, including the one last November just two days after her 100th birthday.
Alberta is now in Heaven, reunited with her faith family, and in the arms of her Savior. She is at peace. We will miss her. She had an extraordinary life. I am grateful I got to be a part of 6% of it.