Area couples reflect on love on Valentine’s Day

TCR/KRISTIN BURDEY Pat and Lyle Nelson

TCR/KRISTIN BURDEY Claire and Ione Olstad
By : 
Kristin Burdey
Tri-County Record

In a society where far too many things are disposable, it is a precious thing to find something built to last. In honor of Valentine’s Day, two local couples with real ‘staying power’ share their stories of lifelong love.

It only takes a spark…

It all started 60 years ago on a cold January day at Rushford High School. At an afternoon pep fest, the Trojan cheerleaders announced that they wanted to sing happy birthday to one of the basketball players: a rather shy young man named Claire Olstad.

Afterward one of the cheerleaders, a bold and beautiful young lady by the name of Ione Heiden, came over to Claire and asked, “Sweet sixteen and never been kissed?” Without waiting for the answer, she leaned over and planted a kiss on his cheek and declared, “Now we’ve got that taken care of.” It wasn’t long before Claire and Ione became a steady item.

Lyle Nelson attended a school ideal for young farmers in Morris, Minn. Nelson attended  classes only six months out of the year, before tending the family farm in Rosholt, S. Dak., about five miles from the Minnesota border. Having lost his father at the age of eight, while still a teen Lyle’s mother suffered a stroke that put her in the rest home, which left Lyle to spend a lot of time alone on the tractor.

Pat Manley grew up 20 miles away on the farm her grandfather homesteaded outside of Sisseton, S. Dak. She began teaching at a country school in a year with weather so treacherous that they had to take a horse and sleigh to pick up students like a school bus. The two might never have crossed paths were it not for a pair of mutual friends setting up a blind date.


Ione was a grade ahead of Claire, so the two already knew each other when they started having noon lunch together at school, often sharing an Almond Joy. At a time when dates were only a once-a-week occurrence, Claire and Ione enjoyed seeing each other regularly at ballgames.

Claire even joined chorus one year to be close to his sweetie. One of their earliest dates involved a trip to Sammy’s Pizza in Winona, Minn., where Ione tried her very first slice of pizza. When Claire attended Monday meetings of the Army Reserves, he would bring back pizza to stay in Ione’s good graces. “I’ve liked it ever since,” she smiles.

Lyle and Pat’s blind date took them to a dance on a steamy August night. It was hot and smoky inside the building, so the two couples stepped outside to cool down and get a breath of fresh air. Lyle took off his sweaty shirt, hanging it on the antenna of the car to dry while Pat couldn’t believe her eyes. “I thought, ‘What kind of a guy is this?’” a memory she recalled with hearty laughter all these years later.

After that first date, Pat was indecisive about future meetings with Lyle. They went together off and on while she taught school in Aberdeen, writing letters and getting together on holidays, continuing to date for two more years, almost to the day.


Having graduated ahead of Claire, Ione attended airline stewardess school in the cities, which led to a job at Capital Airlines. She then worked for Mayo Clinic before taking a position at IBM. Meanwhile, Claire spent six months active duty in 1962, at times spending two hours standing in the rain waiting to phone his beloved.

The two had already discussed marriage, so when Claire went to Wendell Nordby’s jewelry store to pick out a ring, he knew what he had to do before giving it to Ione. Claire went to the Heiden home and visited at length with Ione’s parents about about everything but marriage. Finally, as her dad moved to head to bed, Claire stood up and asked for her hand, receiving immediate affirmation from her father. “But it felt like an hour before her mother finally said, ‘I suppose,’” Claire recalls. “It took me about half a second to get out that door.”

But in order to be married, prospective partners had to be 21 years of age. As Claire was a month away from his birthday, his folks met the young couple at the courthouse to sign off on their son. “Ione paid for the whole thing, and she’s continually wanting to collect my half,” Claire laughed.

Ione’s mother had always wanted a December wedding, so as Ione was the last child to be married, she acquiesced. “And it was a beautiful wedding,” Ione remembers of that day at St. John’s in Hart 55 years ago. Her mother made all the dresses out of velvet, including the bridal gown, in addition to preparing the supper. When they drive past the church today, Claire will still tell his bride with a smile, “We tied the knot pretty good.”

After dating for two years, Lyle bought a Princess ring from the jeweler in Sisseton, S. Dak., and presented it to Pat at Christmastime, inquiring, “You are going to marry me, aren’t you?” She agreed, but still had her doubts. “Maybe I’m just cautious,” Pat confided. “But even as I walked down the aisle, I wondered if I was making the right decision.”

“She didn’t tell me that,” smiled Lyle, who didn’t have a shred of doubt as to whether Pat was the one. “I knew right away. From the moment my friend asked me to go on that date, I knew that she was the one that had been chosen for me.”

Lyle and Pat were united in marriage Aug. 20, 1956, when they were both 24 years old. They headed north for a honeymoon along the North Shore’s Scenic Drive. Their car had been decorated for the wedding, and the newlyweds thought they could clean it up in Lake Superior, but the water temperature was far too cold. Lyle declared that he wanted to go home a day early from the honeymoon, “And I didn’t like that very well,” recalled Pat. It would take years for Lyle to admit the only reason for their early return was that he’d run out of money.

Married Life

Ione had been making $3.60 an hour at IBM, and Claire $1.60 at Ace, but after getting married Ione left her job, as Claire did not want to make a life in the city. “I guess that’s the Norwegian in me coming through,” he smiled. The Olstads moved from Yucatan to Hart to Lanesboro, where their children Calvin, Angela, Clark, and Heath were born. “We decided that we couldn’t drink that water anymore,” laughed Ione, and the couple moved to a farm south of Rushford where they would spend the next 49 years.

There were some difficult days early on in their marriage. Claire worked at Ace full-time while also working on the farm full-time. “We taught our kids how to work,” Ione explained, “and I’m not ashamed of that.” The Olstads always had a big garden and two freezers full of food, which carried them through the challenging lean times. Going out was a rarity, but they did like to go to Helen’s Café in Peterson after church on Sundays.

After their wedding Pat Nelson got her PHC, or “Putting Hubby through College” degree. They moved to Rushford in 1967, where Lyle was the principal of the high school for five years while they raised their children Dale, Janet, Jean, and Susan. Pat worked as a substitute teacher and did daycare for 47 years, at both the nursing home and Wee World. Lyle later worked selling Lutheran Brotherhood Insurance, before settling in at the Farmers Elevator where he learned that he wasn’t a salesman.

The middle years of life were some of the hardest years for the couple, as they juggled the children, family life, and work. The kids were at different ages and stages, so some were busy at school in the evenings while others needed to be to bed early. “In those days they didn’t really have ‘date nights’ like they do today.”

Lessons on Love and Life

Compromise has been very important for the Olstads over the years. “We worked it out so all the small decisions were Ione’s, and all the major ones were mine,” explained Claire. “It’s been going good, but there just haven’t been any major decisions yet,” he laughed. “I thought that when I got to be 21, I’d be the total boss. Well, I’m still waiting.” Ione said that Claire truly is the head of the household. “I do get my opinion heard, as everyone should, but I don’t get the final say.”

Claire recalls the pre-marital advice of his supervisor, Don Otis: “He said if you figure on giving in 60 percent of the time and getting your way 40 percent of the time, it’ll come out pretty even.”

Another key the Olstads attribute to lifelong happiness is appreciating each other. “You have to put yourself in the other one’s shoes,” Claire emphasized, “And really appreciate everything they do.”

“I don’t think he ever left the table without showing thanks,” Ione said of her husband. “He has always worked hard, and he has taken such good care of me.” “My mother always thought I was perfect,” smiled Claire. “And I never told her any different,” Ione said, finishing the quip.

“Sunday mornings are important, too,” confides Claire. “I think it’s real important for young couples, and all couples.” While the kids were young, the Olstad family sat up front in church. After the kids had all graduated, Ione asked Claire if he could behave, and they moved to the back, where their names may or may not be carved into the pew today.

“We’ve been pretty lucky to be healthy,” Ione said gratefully of the couple, their four children, 11 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. “Marriage is an every day thing. You have to work on it. Appreciate each other. Time goes so fast, and it’s all been good.”

Even though things change as you get older, life certainly does not get boring. In fact, one of the Nelsons’ most exciting memories took place the weekend of their 50th anniversary, which was in August of 2007. They had a house full of company spending the weekend, ready to celebrate.

On the eve of the party they were awakened in the middle of the night to find Rushford inundated with floodwater.  The nine people in the house found that they were unable to drive out, so they walked up the street through waist-deep water, eventually turning up to Circle Drive where Dawn Olson invited them in and dried them off.

“Pat has put up with me for 62 years. She’s very patient with me,” said Lyle, displaying the radiant smile that Pat proudly explains has been passed on to their children, a smile that also demonstrates the importance of having a sense of humor. “Both parties have to learn to work things out – it’s not going to be perfect. Except Pat – she’s perfect most of the time,” asserted Lyle. “He doesn’t believe that,” replied Pat. “Don’t let him kid you.”

Pat emphasized the importance of “simple things like just saying, ‘I love you’ and just being together. Take time to enjoy each other, which is easier to do in your older years,” encouraged Pat. “What you do changes over time. We’re more content to just be at home, not always going and doing like when we were younger. We’re satisfied to not do so many things. It’s a wonderful thing to be married.”

Lyle is still grateful after over six decades of marriage and seven grandchildren, acknowledging that his prayers had truly been answered. “I spent a lot of time on that tractor. Who do you think you talk to when you’re out there?” he says, gesturing upwards. “I fell in love the first time I met her. It was meant to be.”