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LIFELONG HOME: Iris Haake forged her own path while continuing family’s farming tradition in Lewiston

December 24, 2017 GMT

There have been plenty of life changes for Iris Haake.

There was Florence Schubert at a church camp who sparked an interest in for a career in nursing in a teenage Iris.

It was her cousin setting her up on a blind date with Roy Haake that made her decide to stay in the rolling farm hills of southeastern Minnesota instead of seeking more education at the University of Minnesota.

Then there came her three sons, and through their activities, she became one of Lewiston’s most recognizable citizens, FFA supporter and fervent — and loudest — sports fan.

Yet, the constant for Iris has been the multiple generations-worth of tilled acreage she grew up on in Lewiston. And even though she defied her parents’ wishes and started a career in nursing, she and her husband, Roy Haake, returned to the family farm that holds years of history, funny stories and family traditions.

Where the pavement turns to gravel on Enterprise Valley Drive up in the hills of Lewiston, Iris, then Iris Heublein, was born in 1930 and grew up on a farm with her parents, George and Clara Heublein, and her brother, Avery, who was eight years her senior.

The coverage of their family farm included hundreds of acres of land and multiple buildings and barns, including one built by German war prisoners. Iris recalled her family bringing the prisoners back to her family’s main homestead, shutting them in a garage and feeding them — which was completely against the protocol and rules.

But there was a simple reason for it, Iris said.

“With the kind of food they got, they couldn’t do much work,” Iris recalled. “If you have good food, you can do better work.”

Today, the farm still has multiple homes, including the one that Roy and Iris share about a mile up the gravel portion of Enterprise Valley Drive. The German prisoner-built barn is still standing, just yards away from the modern day rumble of machinery.

That machinery wasn’t always a given on that land, Iris recalled. In particular, she remembered a year when tractors started becoming more popular on farms, and her brother refused to cultivate the land with horses.

So it became Iris’ task.

The heat and tiresome work of cultivating the land with horses soon weighed on Iris, who realized she had forgotten something to drink. Running from the middle of the field to her home for a drink, Iris left the horses in the middle of their task.

“Well guess what? The horses beat me home,” Iris said, cackling at her childhood blunder.

“With the cultivator behind them,” Roy added.

“There was not much left of that cultivator, and my mother said, ‘That’s it. You get that tractor,’” Iris recalled through her laughter. “I was not going to be out on that.”

During her teenage years, her friend, Marilyn Schwager, as she was known at the time, invited her to a church camp in Chetek, Wis., and with her parents’ permission, Iris went.

There she met one of the first people to change her life’s course.

“The camp nurse wore a white hat, a white uniform, no slacks of course back then and white shoes,” Iris recalled. “And she’d come to our cabin every night to make sure we had a good time, but we didn’t get in any trouble. And now she was somebody that I thought, ‘Oh I want to be a nurse like that.’

“Not Florence Nightingale,” Iris said about the founder of modern nursing, “but Florence Schubert.”

Iris asked Schubert how she could become a nurse, and the camp nurse told her to take her grades to the Methodist-Kahler School of Nursing in Rochester and inquire about nursing education.

The head of the school was confused to see Iris at the school; her previous classes were nothing like that of a typical prospective nurse.

“She said, ‘If you were going to be a nurse why didn’t you take chemistry and biology? Why were you taking shorthand and typing?’ And I said, ‘Well my folks told me I was going to be a secretary,’ and back then you always did what your folks told you,” Iris said with her usual laugh. “Until I met Florence Schubert.”

The director of the school suggested Iris start taking classes at Winona State University that were related to nursing, much to her parents’ approval. The way they saw it, the sooner Iris took classes on nursing, the sooner she’d give up this new dream and return to secretary work.

They told Iris people go to the hospital to die, and Iris’ mother, whose sister died after gallbladder surgery, wasn’t keen on her daughter working in one.

But a secretary’s life wasn’t for Iris, and in 1953, she graduated from the Methodist-Kahler School of Nursing, officially earning the title of a registered nurse.

Iris worked for about a year in homes and schools but realized she needed more education, deciding it was time to go to the University of Minnesota.

Meanwhile, her future husband Roy, also eight years older than her, was growing up on a family dairy farm south of Lewiston. He remembered walking to St. Martin’s in the winter of 1935 and 1936 with his sister for confirmation or into Winona for school.

He and his family would often bring 30 to 60 dozen eggs to his great-uncle and uncle’s grocery store in Winona, and his cousin Paul Haake helped him unpack the delicate loads. Paul Haake later donated the largest single gift in Winona State University history, and one of the university’s newest residence halls bears the Haake name.

A lifelong farmer himself, Roy knows the unpredictability of growing up and living on a farm, such as when the snap on his leader of a bull broke and left him in a dangerous situation. The farm’s three-legged shepherd dog came to his rescue, almost certainly saving Roy’s life.

“Come to think of it, I would’ve missed a lot of stuff,” Roy said.

Iris would have too.

Prior to meeting Roy, She was set to start another education journey at the University of Minnesota. But a cousin of hers set her up with Roy one New Year’s Eve.

“I thought maybe I’ll go to University of Minnesota, because you really needed more education to do that kind of work, and then somewhere along the line,” Iris said, pausing to laugh, “I met this man Roy. And he was the first man I ever kissed.”

From the minute she met him, Iris was struck by Roy’s looks.

“He was pretty handsome,” Iris said with a youthful giggle. “Well I tell ya, he still is.”

For Roy, the date was quite the success as well.

“Well, it went pretty good, so we had another date,” Roy said.

The couple was married on May 21, 1955 at St. Martin’s in Winona. One of 12 siblings, Roy’s family was quite large and needed more space than what Iris’ lifelong church at St. Paul’s Church in Lewiston could handle.

Roy and Iris settled down in an apartment in Winona, and while Roy worked on a farm in partnership with his brother, Iris worked as a nurse in Winona.

Their tenure wouldn’t last long, however, as Iris’ father wanted Roy to help farm the 400 acres back in Lewiston. Iris and Roy moved to the property in 1957, and in 1960, they moved up to the house they live in now, still on family property.

Iris stopped working as a nurse when their first son, Charles, was born, just minutes before July 4. Taking advice from Winona nursing friends, Iris drank some castor oil to speed up the labor process, hoping for an Independence Day baby.

But — as Roy jokes — Iris must have drank too much oil. Charles was born late on July 3 in the mid-1950s.

Just one month past a year later, the couple welcomed another son to the family, Kent.

“They were just a year apart,” Iris said. “Now that was a busy time, whew, I tell ya.”

Despite her passion for nursing, with two kids under two and a family farm to help run, Iris felt compelled to stay home.

“When these two were little, you had your hands full so you couldn’t work,” Iris said.

The family stayed busy with a large farm and the boys schooling in Lewiston. About 10 years after their first two sons were born, the family welcomed their third and final child, Bryan, who made his entrance into the world on the way to the hospital.

“We were somewhere between Winona County and Olmsted County, and I said, ’Oh we’ve got a boy,’” Iris recalled.

With three boys on the farm, the family stayed busy with FFA and wrestling. Iris and Roy were big fans of Lewiston sports and their boys, so much so that Iris was sequestered to a top spot in the bleachers because of her enthusiasm.

“I was a big supporter because they made me sit up in the very top of the gym, you know how they had, because I yelled so much. Nobody wanted to be next to me,” Iris recalled, with a laugh.

Roy and Iris continue to support Lewiston-Altura sports, attending the volleyball games their granddaughters have played in. This time, Iris was warned to reign it in.

“But you know that they told me,” Iris said, “’if you’re going to come to the volleyball games, now you’re not going to yell. You can’t be doing that.’”

And while they watched their boys grow, they also saw an expanding Lewiston. Flipping through her yearbook, Iris pointed out advertisements for cold locker storage places, a creamery, a co-op, a stock buyer, a grocery store, a service oil company and a butchery. Advertisements from the Lewiston Journal and Lewiston Auto — which still call the town home — were also in her yearbook.

Without a grocery store in town, the couple said they have grown to rely on Kwik Trip and recently Dollar General, Iris said. The new stores and businesses have become part of their daily lives, to the point that every morning, Roy and the couple’s 8-year-old dog, Elvis, climb in the truck, trek into town and get coffee and a donut.

“Elvis don’t get the coffee,” Roy said with a smile.

When her boys got older, Iris decided to return to nursing part time. She took a job at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, working in cancer research, the clinic and hospital, and eventually in the rehabilitation unit until she retired in 1996. Iris also taught nursing assistant courses, passing on her love of nursing to others — almost like her own version of Florence Schubert.

With retirement has come time with her sons, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Their son, Bryan, now runs the farm with his family, but Roy and Iris remain on the land they have lived on for 60 years.

The land that Iris grew up on.

The land that has fostered a farming tradition.

The land that supported a passionate young nurse as she raised a family with a husband she’s always found handsome.

And the land that will always be home to family history.

“They made me sit up in the very top of the gym, you know how they had, because I yelled so much. Nobody wanted to be next to me.” Iris Haake, an 87-year-old lifetime resident of Lewiston and the biggest fan of her children’s sports teams