Best birthday ever! Woman receives honorary diploma

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Central superintendent Nick Trenkamp and school board member NiCole Dennler present an honorary diploma to Sofie Davis on her 103rd birthday.

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor

Though she was born in St. Olaf and raised near there, Sofie Davis has always had a soft spot for Elkader.

“She thinks of it as home,” said her son, Paul, adding that a visit to Iowa to see his mom, who now resides in a care center in McGregor, always includes a side trip to Elkader. “She points out places she used to work and tells us who owned what farms, that sort of thing.”

Now Sofie has an even deeper connection to her adopted hometown. Last Thursday, during a gathering of family and friends to celebrate her 103rd birthday, Sofie received an honorary diploma from Central High School. 

“You know, sometimes I can’t remember what I had to eat yesterday but I remember everything about the day World War I ended—and I’m going to remember this,” said Sofie, running her fingers over the framed document presented to her by Central superintendent Nick Trenkamp and school board member NiCole Dennler.

Sofie had to leave school after eighth grade to help her family and never had the opportunity to return. “At one point, she worked for a veterinarian in Elkader and he offered to let her stay with his family and go to high school (at Central),” Paul said. “But she thought she’d be uncomfortable because she was older—mom was 19 at the time. She also thought the ‘city’ girls wouldn’t welcome a ‘country’ girl like her.”

Paul added that his mom never dwelled on her lack of formal schooling but she mentioned it often enough that a granddaughter, Amy Jandrisvets, knew how much a diploma—even an honorary one—would mean to her. With Sofie’s birthday approaching, Amy contacted the Register for assistance with her birthday surprise. In turn, the Register reached out to Trenkamp who went all the way to Iowa Department of Education for approval.

“It’s the first time I’ve had a request of this sort,” Trenkamp said. “It took some work but I was so glad to do it. While Ms. Davis may not have completed high school classes, her 103 years of experiences can’t be taught in a classroom. She is a great example of a life-long learner.”

“You’ve done so much learning,” Dennler told a visibly moved Sofie at the gathering. “I wish I could have all of your knowledge for just one day!”

One of five children, Sofie is a life-long Clayton County resident. She lived in St. Olaf and Elkader before marrying her husband, Raymond, in 1937. They moved to McGregor where Raymond worked on the family farm until his death in 1979. The couple, who had five children, was the fourth generation to live there.

After Raymond’s death, Sofie moved to Garnavillo, where she lived for 22 years before moving back to McGregor.

Active for many years in her church, Sofie was also a 4-H leader. After retirement, she traveled extensively, making three trips to Norway, where she visited family, along with trips to Alaska and the Holy Land.

A common thread through her many memories is technology. She recalls her family’s first car, which they bought when she was 7 or 8. At about the same time, they got their first radio. The telephone came many years later. Sofie’s family shared a line with several other families. They would all listen to the number and pattern of rings to determine if the call was for them.

“Ours was one long and three short,” Sofie recalled. “I think of the phone now—you can take pictures with it!”

When asked about the key to longevity on her 100th birthday, Sofie credited taking care of herself and “believing in the Lord.” Last week, her advice was more succinct: Just behave yourself, she told the gathered crowd.

Editor’s note: North Iowa Times editor Audrey Posten contributed to this article.

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