She says her dad liked President Warren G. Harding. And Iris Westman thinks Pat Nixon, a former first lady, was a lovely woman.
Westman, who was born Aug. 28, 1905, will mark her 115th birthday Friday. She’s reported to be the oldest person ever in North Dakota and among the top 10 supercentenarians in the world.
Her birthday will be a special day in Northwood. Though the Deaconess Health Care Center is closed to visitors because of coronavirus, people will be driving by at 3 p.m. to wish Iris Westman a happy birthday. They will wave. They will wear masks.
There are plans underway to honor Iris Westman and her devotion to reading. Instead of birthday gifts, donations are being accepted in her honor toward the construction of the UND Chester Fritz Conservation Lab at UNDalumni.org/iris.
Iris Westman lives quietly in nearby Northwood, N.D., in her room at the Deaconess Health Center.
In Herald interviews during past years, she has said: “My dad and a lot of people liked President Harding.”
Then, thinking about Mrs. Nixon, she once commented: “She was a lovely lady.”
Class of ‘28
Iris Westman was featured in a UND Alumni magazine last winter. She was a member of the class of 1928. About age and records, Iris Westman seems indifferent. In previous interviews, she has been rich in memories – such as the days of the Ford Model A. When it came out, her family on their farm near Aneta, N.D., got one of them in 1929.
“We had a Dodge before that," she said.
She grew up playing games, such as hide-and-go-seek and pump-pump pull away. She never played marbles, but she said the boys did.
She had three brothers. Two sisters died in early childhood. Her father, Nicholas – or “Ole” -- was from Litchfield, Minn. Her mother, Matilda Erickson Westman, was born in Norway.
Chicken for dinner
Her childhood memories of the farm include chicken for dinner on Sunday, if there was company.
“I think I was 10 years old before we had store-bought bread. I thought it made awfully nice toast," she said.
Last winter, Iris Westman was recognized in the UND Alumni Magazine as the oldest graduate. The only supercentenarian alum –more than 110 years or older.
After her graduation in 1928, Iris Westman followed her love of reading. She went into a lifetime as a teacher and librarian. Her early work was as a high school principal and English teacher at Killdeer, N.D. Later, she attended summer school at the University of Minnesota’s school of library science. And she earned an advanced degree there in 1946. Much of her career was in Worthington, Minn. She never married.
She grew up on the family farm. And Iris Westman was reading before she went to school. Sometimes, she went from her farm home to school by sleigh. While her two sisters died young, her three brothers became farmers.
Iris Westman is a cheerful, optimistic person. In earlier interviews, she said she likes her room with the big window – looking out to well manicured grass. She says she appreciates the staff members and all they do for her. She doesn’t watch much television. She reads. She likes her food. But she has said she cannot tolerate runny yolks of eggs.
Her guardian now is a grand niece, Jane Lukens, who lives on a farm nearby at Aneta, N.D.
Iris Westman has said there is no secret to reaching the age of 115. It’s God.
Reach Marilyn Hagerty at email@example.com or by telephone at (701) 772-1055.