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Notable Neighbors
home : features : notable neighbors
November 27, 2021

9/16/2021 4:45:00 PM
Notable Neighbors

Dean M. Laux

She’s A Nifty Nonagenarian
Even in our high-tech society, with healthcare advances occurring every year, it takes a lot of luck and a certain amount of grit to survive to the age of 90–and at age 97, Rosemary Hagen has had her share of both. In fact, she almost didn’t reach her tenth birthday, having at age nine nearly perished in a vicious rainstorm that caught up the small rowboat she and her 18-year-old brother Edward (who should have known better) were using to cross Minnesota’s Lake Vermilion at night. But they were rescued, and Rosemary has lived on to tell the tale. Indeed, she tells many tales in her memoir, aptly entitled “She’s Probably Up To No Good.” It’s a fascinating read.
Born in Minneapolis in 1924, she was only four years old when her father, Frederick Harding, died at age 40 from equine encephalitis as a result of a mosquito bite. With her mother Leila suddenly a widow who had to find work in a country that was just entering the Great Depression, Rosemary was left much of the time in the care of her Auntie Hazel and her teenaged brother, who was more concerned with his pursuits than her welfare. “He thought I was a pest, and there was a lot of truth to that,” she says.
Both her mom and Auntie Hazel felt strongly that Rosemary needed to be an independent thinker, to make her own decisions about what she did and what she became. “The only trouble was, they didn’t like it if I chose something other than what they wanted,” says Rosemary. “I was just an average student. I thought school was dumb. Mom had been an aspiring actress, and Auntie Hazel wanted me to study music, so I took piano lessons. I hated it. That wasn’t for me.” So much for music. Mom and Auntie Hazel wanted her to marry her friend and neighbor Eddie, who had good prospects. She didn’t. She wanted to make her own choice of a life partner.
“When I was in grade school, I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian, but I changed my mind in high school. I hadn’t prepared myself well enough for the math and science, and I became more interested in English, speech and drama.” Indeed, while still in high school she wrote some radio scripts that were used by a local station. When she graduated from high school, she took a job with Harris Upham, a brokerage firm, as a board marker, posting the changes in stock prices as they came in. “I learned a lot about stocks there,” she says with a sly smile, “and I’ve been playing the market ever since.”
She entered the University of Minnesota in 1942 as a daytime student, graduating in 1946 with a bachelor’s degree in–what else? English, speech and education, with plenty of drama on the side. “I did well in this field,” she admits. “Dr. Whiting of the University Theater told me that opportunities in the field were limited to stage, movies or teaching. He recommended teaching, and I agreed with him. My skill was in directing plays. I was no future stage or movie actress.”
While at U.M. she became a member of a theater group, the Minnesota Masquers. She volunteered to direct a play for their fundraising event, chose the play (Love Rides the Rails), selected and assigned the roles, converted it to a musical, and even sold tickets and soda pop for the presentation. The show was so successful that it was held over for a total of ten weeks rather than the normal two-week gig.
One of the actors she took on was Paul Hagen, fresh out of the Army and back at U.M. to finish his degree. He couldn’t sing a lick, but he could act, and he was helpful with many of the problems that came up in putting on the show. “I got to know Paul very well,” Rosemary said. So well, in fact, that she held him over in the role of husband for 54 years, from 1947 until his passing in 2001.
Shortly after their marriage, both Paul and Rosemary entered graduate school at U.M. and earned master’s degrees, he in communications, she in English, speech and education. “Paul could have made a career in show business,” Rosemary says, but he chose teaching, and their matching interests made it easy for them to stay together in their careers. Paul taught first at U.M. and Rosemary taught English to junior high school students at nearby Chaska. When Paul landed another teaching position in Cortland, NY in 1951, Rosemary went along and taught 10th grade English. Then they returned to the Minneapolis area, where Rosemary taught speech and remedial reading at the junior high school level. She remained committed to the field of literacy and remedial reading for the rest of her teaching career, which ended in 1982 when she took early retirement and moved to Englewood with Paul.
Paul and Rosemary wanted to raise a family of their own to nurture, cherish and teach, but alas, the fates were against them. “I had seven pregnancies, and I lost five before they were born and two more shortly after their birth,” she recalls grimly. That was a physical and mental toll no one should have to bear, and it also affected Rosemary’s teaching status. She lost teaching time, continuity in her career, and opportunities for advancement. It was during those years that she first became aware of the discrimination between men and women in the job market: Women were paid less for the same jobs men were doing, and men were favored in career advancement and status. She was to become a lifelong advocate for women’s rights–including, in 1965, her appointment to the Minnesota Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women.
She also became an environmentalist with deep concern about the phenomenon of global warming. These issues, together with her interest in worldwide literacy, led her to undertake a program of world travel during the last half of her life that would overfill anyone’s bucket list. She traveled with Paul to the Soviet Union, Romania and Czechoslovakia on a Reading Association tour in 1968, then on a sabbatical to study literacy problems in India; to the Canadian Arctic, Baffin Island, Greenland, Iceland, Nunavut and Norway to study their coping with global warming; to France, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland and Sweden because they were there; to Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania to examine their literacy programs; to Cuba (three times) to study their educational system; and to Egypt and Southeast Asia as a tourist. “I’ve never been to Australia, New Zealand and the Eastern Pacific,” she confesses, and maybe they’ll be next on her list.
Paul died in 2001 of heart failure coupled with Alzheimer’s disease, and his last breath was taken in her arms–a touching end to their life devoted to one another. Rosemary continued her travels on and off with friends from Englewood. At age 97 her pace has slowed a bit. She’s not in an assisted living facility. “I don’t need that,” she asserts, “and I don’t need to have anyone else tell me how to run my life.” She has a small house in a quiet community off Route 776 with her companion Kim Chee, a “neurotic but otherwise well-behaved 15-year-old tomcat. He’s a scaredy-cat and runs under the bed at the slightest disturbance,” she avers.
She does her own cooking and has a cleaning lady come in twice a month. “I take care of myself,” she says. “I walk about a mile every day, I help out at the Venice Unitarian Universalist Congregation, attend Zoom meetings, and I’m a member of the Great Decisions and Gulf Coast Humanists.” She also tends her flower garden and takes time every week to paint with the artists of the Ringling Art Center in Englewood. “Most of my old friends have passed away,” she remarks, but she visits with a few friends in nursing homes when it’s permitted.
She loves to read, and she also writes, of course. Her memoir was published in 2019, and she’s thinking of writing another one. “I like to keep busy,” she says, in a vast understatement. “It’s part of the reason I’m still alive.” And as Frank Sinatra put it in song, she’s always lived life her way. Just as her mom and Auntie Hazel always wanted her to do.

Dean Laux is exploring  interesting folks living in our community. If you know of anyone with an interesting background please send an email to: tomnewton@englewodreview.com. Include the person’s name, contact info and a brief description of the person's background.

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