Rena Bagne of Ortonville is a super-hero! Actually she is a super-centarian – a person who has lived to or passed the age of 110. But living through 11 decades and two world wars still makes her a hero. Only one in five million people can claim super-centarian status and Rena just reached that milestone. On her 110th birthday on Friday she said, “I love my birthday.”
On March 1, 1908 the last known person born in the 18th Century (b.1799) – Mrs. Augusta Hejneck – died in Wisconsin. On March 2, 1908, Rena Halderson was born. It was just a few months before the Ford Motor Company introduced the Model-T with a sticker price of $850, but Rena’s parents Hjalmer Olaf and Inga Halderson had no chance of buying one. They lived on a homestead claim near Kamsack, Saskatchewan, Canada in hopes of becoming rich in the mines. They soon discovered they had been bamboozled by fast talkers and the family was destitute. Inga’s father offered Inga and her eight siblings each a farm in Minnesota. So, in 1911, at the tender age of three, Rena moved with her family to a new town in a new country.
The farm was near Starbuck, Minnesota, and the Haldersons raised turkeys, chickens, cattle, and cash crops. The entire family worked the farm. Rena and her six siblings also walked to school and church. It was eight miles to St. John’s Lutheran Church and nearly two miles to the schoolhouse in New Prairie.
Hjalmer adjusted well to farming and found he had a talent for working with animals. Although he had no veterinary training, other farmers often called him to tend to their ailing livestock. Rena accompanied him from time to time and learned she shared his compassion and love of healing the sick and injured. She also determined her preference for caring for people. Upon graduating from Glenwood High School, she was eager to attend nurses training and enrolled at Bethany Lutheran in Minneapolis to become a licensed practical nurse.
Rena worked as a nurse in Minneapolis and then moved back home to work at the Starbuck hospital. Walter Bagne, also a graduate of Glenwood High, delivered milk to places around town, including the hospital. The hospital seemed to be getting more deliveries than usual until finally Rena and Walter began dating. When Rena decided to take a nursing job in Chicago, Walter also moved to the Windy City. He studied business and landed a job at Standard Oil. The couple married in 1946, but had no children.
Meanwhile, Rena’s sister Edna moved to Ortonville. She stayed with an aunt and worked as a nanny for a young doctor’s family. She also worked at the Columbian Hotel, Snowy White Laundry, and as a nanny for wealthy patrons who vacationed during the summer on the peninsula of Big Stone Lake.
Edna met her future husband while ring shopping at Brown’s Jewelry Store in downtown Ortonville. Fred Brown was her clerk and she not only got the ring, she also got the man. The two married and worked side by side at their jewelry store.
It was Edna who talked Rena into moving back to Minnesota. Rena and Walter opened their own store, Bagne’s Gift Shop, next door to Brown’s Jewelry. The couples were as close as their businesses, and the two wives – true Norwegian women – loved spending time together and going to the lake to fish with their husbands.
Rena and Walter also ran their store side by side until Walter began working as an accountant at the Big Stone Canning Factory. Rena continued to run the gift shop, but realized she missed nursing and returned to working part time at the hospital. Eventually, the Bagnes sold the business and Rena again focused on nursing. Walter retired from the canning company in 1969. He died in 1974.
Fred also passed away, and Edna eventually remarried. After her second husband died, she and Rena lived together in the Trojan Apartments and at Northridge. In 2017, before Edna passed away, the sisters were among the oldest siblings in the United States.
Rena now resides at Fairway Senior Communities. At her birthday celebration there, she was dressed up and sported freshly manicured and polished nails, a gold bracelet, and a colorful necklace. The homey atmosphere and comfortable surroundings of the new facility must suit her well as there’s no denying she looks much younger than her age.
Jon Rogers, Marketing and Communications Specialist for Ortonville Health Services, says “Rena is not only doing well, she is an inspiration to everyone.” Perhaps her positive attitude is the key to her longevity. Her softly-styled white hair is as ethereal as the wings on the angel figurines she loved to collect and her mind is as sharp as her wit. Just don’t tell her any milkman jokes – she has heard them all.
Looking back, Rena says, “I have seen so many changes in the world.” She arrived on the planet just as the first airplane passenger flight was taking off and the same year Cincinnati’s mayor announced, “Women are not physically fit to operate automobiles.” In 2018, technology and women have come a long way and so has Rena Bagne. And she’s still going.
And now in 2018, it was Ortonville’s Mayor Gene Hausauer’s turn. He arrived with a big bouquet of red roses and declared March 2 Rena Bagne Day – a fitting tribute to one of the oldest residents in Minnesota, a super-centarian, and a super lady. Happy Birthday, Rena!
Pictured: Ortonville Mayor Gene Hausauer and Rena Bagne