‘Just enjoy life,’ advises 99-year-old Canton woman

CHARLIE WARNER/NEWS LEADER Jiggs Connolly of Canton recently celebrated her 99th birthday.
Charlie Warner

In 1920, women in the United States gained the right to vote. The League of Nations was established following the end of World War I. The first commercially-licensed radio station began broadcasting live results of the presidential election. In December of that year Delores (Knox) “Jiggs” Connolly of Canton was born.

Ninety-nine years later Jiggs is still enjoying an active life in her Canton home. She recently celebrated her birthday, with many in the small Fillmore County community observing the milestone. Even the new community electronic billboard on Highway 52 made note of the special day.

This writer sat down and visited with Jiggs last week. She’s still sharp as a tack and moves around in her home like someone a quarter century younger than her.

For nearly a century Jiggs has lived in the Canton area. She was born on a farm near Canton in 1920. Her father, Leland, gave her the nickname Jiggs when she was a little girl. Apparently, there was a little girl in a newspaper comic strip who was giggly and full of spunk…just like young Delores. Leland said his young daughter reminded him of the comic strip character and started calling her Jiggs. The nickname stuck and is what she still goes by today. In fact, many in Canton don’t even know what Jiggs’ christened name is.

One of Jiggs’ most cherished childhood memories is when the family would get loaded up in the horse-drawn sleigh, all snuggled in under heavy blankets and traverse across the winter landscape to Canton for Christmas Eve Mass. “Sometimes it would be nasty weather, but we always made it to midnight mass,” she said.

Jiggs graduated from Canton High School in 1938. A large addition, with many classrooms and the largest gym in the area, was built in the 1930s. “It was quite a school, one of the nicest in the area. And the gym was really something. Teams came from all over to play tournament games there,” she recalled.

Like many small towns decades ago, Canton had a bustling business district. Jiggs remembered there were three grocery stores, a meat market, lumberyard, the bank, plumbing and electric shops, a grain elevator, and at least three taverns.

“It was a very busy little town back then,” she said.

Jiggs worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 26 years, before and after she was married. She married Maurice Connolly in El Paso, Texas, and they had two sons, Dan and Jim. Jiggs worked at the Canton Post Office weekdays and several hours Saturday morning and then traveled to Rochester to put in more hours there. She spent a lot of her Saturdays unloading mail trucks. It was hard work, especially when the Sears and Montgomery-Wards catalogs arrived.

Maurice died in the early 1970s and Jiggs has continued to live in the large two-story home that her grandfather, Jessie Kimball, built on Canton Avenue more than a century ago. She has been very active in the Assumption Catholic Church (which is right across the street from her home). She taught catechism for 12 years.

The Assumption Church circle and her many friends and family have all been very important to Jiggs. One of the activities she so cherished was going out for birthdays to the Branding Iron in Preston with a group of gals. They would get together to celebrate a birthday and then go out for a drive in the country following their meal in Preston.

Living to the ripe age of 99 is somewhat bittersweet, Jiggs noted. While she is so thankful for her health and longevity, she really does miss all of her dear friends who have passed on before her.

She said it was a real shock when she had to give up driving her car a couple of years ago. But for someone to be able to continue driving well into one’s mid-90s is quite amazing. “I wasn’t making long trips or anything, the last few years, but was still driving to Harmony for groceries and things like that,” she said. “I do miss that independence.”

Her two sons, their families, three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren all visit Jiggs on a regular basis. Her granddaughter, Raquel, lives in Canton and stops by on a daily basis to check on “Grandma.” And she has other family members living in the Rochester and La Crosse areas who make frequent visits, as well.

When asked to what she attributes her longevity, Jiggs replied, “You just need to enjoy life. Take each day at a time and don’t be a worry wart.”