GRAND FORKS — Iris Westman, who at age 115 was the oldest living person in North Dakota and the second oldest living person in the United States, died Sunday, Jan. 3, in Northwood, N.D.
Westman was born Aug. 28, 1905, on the family farm near Aneta, N.D., where she grew up with her parents and three brothers, said her great-great niece, Katie Pinke, who is publisher of Agweek Magazine, a sister-publication of this one in Forum Communications.
Westman graduated from Aneta Public School in 1923 and from UND, with a bachelor’s degree from the College of Education in 1928. She was the first college graduate in her family, which includes Pinke’s mother, Jane Huso Lukens, and Pinke’s son, Hunter, a UND student who is a captain of the UND football team.
After graduating from UND, Westman taught at schools in the North Dakota towns of Killdeer, Aneta and Hillsboro and in the Minnesota cities of Staples and Worthington. When Westman was living in Worthington, Minn., she attended summer school at the University of Minnesota and earned a degree in library science. She worked as a librarian in Worthington Public Schools until her retirement in 1972.
Westman never married, but influenced the life of hundreds of young people through her work as a teacher and a librarian. Many former students wrote to Westman in messages on birthday cards that they became teachers and librarians because of her influence, Pinke said.
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Because education was integral to Westman’s life, she encouraged her nieces and nephews to earn a college degree, Pinke said. Westman’s parents instilled in their daughter that she and her brothers should attend college, and Westman, in turn, had the same expectations for her younger family members.
One of the ways that she expressed that was to give her nieces and nephews savings bonds for birthdays and Christmas, with the assumption that they would be used to finance their college educations.
“She really set the standard for a legacy of education for our family,” PInke said.
Westman moved back to North Dakota in 1990 and lived in Parkwood Place in Grand Forks until 2012, when at age 106, she moved to Northwood Deaconess Health Center Nursing Home.
During the past few decades, Westman gained notoriety for her longevity, good health and active life. Pinke recalls Westman at age 92 walking for a mile from her home in Parkwood to Altru Hospital to congratulate her on Hunter’s birth.
Westman not only was physically in good health, her mind was sharp and she recalled names, dates and events during conversations with family and friends as well as in interviews with members of the media. Westman recalled, for example, that her mother, Mathilda, made her chocolate cake, decorated with chocolate icing, served with a side of Jell-O, for her 7th birthday in 1912, Pinke said.
On Westman’s 115th birthday, Aug. 28, 2020, Westman was honored with a drive-by parade, which included a firetruck, EMS vehicles and most of the residents of Northwood. Her great-great aunt’s beloved nieces and nephews helped her to celebrate the day, Pinke said.
“We very much were her family,” she said. “The legacy that she leaves isn’t going to be replaced. She lived a long full life, and it was her time to go, but we will miss her terribly.
“She was just a great, great lady,” Pinke said.
A private service will be held in the spring in Silent Hill Cemetery, Aneta. Funeral arrangements are with Stanley-Iverson Funeral Home, McVille, N.D.