It was my duty to set an example

Published 12:48pm Monday, February 10, 2014 Updated 10:41am Monday, March 31, 2014


Ida Saetre

Minnesota Mother of the Year

One local mother so exemplified these qualities that the Minnesota Mothers Committee named her Mother of the Year. The Commercial Club and United Lutheran Church of Henning, Minnesota had submitted her nomination for the honor.

How does a woman merit the title Mother of the Year? What events lead up to such an honor?

Perhaps it begins with a childhood born of the classic American immigrant experience. Ida Saetre came from good Norwegian stock – all of her grandparents, and her father, Syver Thoreson, immigrating from Norway. Her own mother, Carrie Halvorson, was born in Freeborn County, Minnesota in 1872. The family came to Nidaros Township in Otter Tail County and lived in a dugout until a log cabin could be built.

Living on neighboring homesteads, Syver and Carrie wed in 1890. They welcomed their baby, Ida, one year later. A brother and three sisters followed. The family farmed and owned one of the first threshing machines in the area.

Ida attended country schools through 8th Grade and then came to Henning to attend high school. When her family moved to Becker County, she took teacher training at the Moorhead Normal School, today called Minnesota State University-Moorhead.

She taught in Vining, MN for six years before marrying Alfred Saetre, a cashier at the Farmers State Bank in Henning. The couple wed in 1916 and took a two-week honeymoon with stops in the Twin Cities and Chicago.

The Henning Advocate newspaper from June 15, 1916 described Ida as, “a lady of many graces of mind and person who is capable of filling the home she will adorn with happiness.” Alfred and Ida also filled their home with seven children, five boys Gaylord, Sydney, Warren, Homer, and Roland, and two girls, Clarice (Mrs. Art Espeland) and Josephine (Mrs. Robert Johnson.) All of the boys would serve in the military, three became judges, one a doctor, two children worked for the FBI.

When the Great Depression struck, the Farmer’s State Bank closed, putting Alfred out of work. In a 1978 interview, Ida remembered, “very difficult times, trying to get jobs you know. Do manual labor whatever he could get.”

With little warning, Alfred died of a heart attack in 1936, leaving Ida to fend for herself and the children ages 19 to 5 years old. They owned their home but had no money. When asked how she managed, Ida matter-of-factly stated, “It was a hard row to hoe.”

They gardened and she canned their vegetables. She baked all their bread and sewed their clothes. The boys took jobs in town, working at stores, stacking, wood, etc… “We struggled together. We couldn’t have luxuries.” And the Saetres weren’t the only family struggling to survive.

One of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs provided Ida with the cash she needed. The county was hiring social workers to inspect homes and visit the children of prospective WPA (Works Progress Administration) workers. In 1938, she became one of the first caseworkers for Otter Tail County with a territory that ran from Battle Lake to Wadena to Parkers Prairie.

Her teenage sons taught her how to drive and away she went! Her car took her to all corners of the county distributing clothing, investigating cases and dictating reports. When the WPA came to an end, she continued on as a social worker until retiring in 1961. In addition to her own kids, an estimated 150 homeless and neglected children stayed at the Saetre home while Ida looked for foster homes.

In addition to her job, Ida was a Red Cross Board member and volunteer who started a chapter of the Grey Ladies in Henning. She chaired local chapters of the American Heart Association and American Cancer Society and served as the Chairperson of the Minnesota Children’s Home Society. She taught Sunday School and served as the Treasurer for the City of Henning and clerk of the Henning School Board, signing each of her children’s high school diplomas.

Looking back on her success as a mother and a social worker, Ida remembered, “I concluded that if I wanted my children to become successful…it was my duty to set an example.” She was an example for all parents.


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