Our Neighbors….Joyce and Harry SolheimHarry and Joyce Solheim’s love story has come full circle – from the day they first met on the shores of Big Hanging Horn Lake, to the cozy, sun-filled house where they now live.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
Harry and Joyce Solheim’s love story has come full circle – from the day they first met on the shores of Big Hanging Horn Lake, to the cozy, sun-filled house where they now live.
“The irony is that I met Harry right here on the lake,” explained Joyce, “– and now we’re right back here!”
Over all of their 61 years of married life, the Solheims have not only been enduring sweethearts, but stalwarts of the community as well, believing that if you’re going to live in a community, you should be a part of what keeps it going. After all, that’s been a tradition in their family for several generations.
When Harry’s parents first came over from Norway, his father went to work in the mines in Hibbing.
“He only had a sixth-grade education, but he kept books for the mines!” said Joyce. “That shows he had an innate talent for it.”
“They used to hold the first month’s wages in case you got sick,” commented Harry of his father’s days in the mines, “but they wouldn’t give it to you until you retired or quit. Somebody in my father’s family got sick, and in order for my dad to collect the insurance he had to quit his job.”
Harry’s parents then moved to Atkinson, where his dad and another man operated a potato warehouse, shipping potatoes by rail to Duluth, and sometimes on to New York.
“They’d use the wood-fired coal heaters to keep the potatoes from freezing,” said Harry.
His father bought the hardware store in Barnum in the 1920s and moved his family there. Harry was born in 1927, and he pretty much grew up in the hardware store, helping to shovel snow, sweeping the floor and performing other day-to-day tasks along with his brother, Bob.
Following Harry’s graduation from Barnum High School in 1945, he was drafted into the Army after having been a granted a deferment while he was in school, as did so many other young men of that day.
He was stationed in Colorado Springs.
“Typical Army –” Harry said. “They asked me what I took in high school, and I told them typing was one of my courses but I wasn’t very good at it – so of course that’s what I ended up doing!”
Harry served as the secretary to General Billy Harrison for a year and then was fortunate enough to be discharged. After that, he came home and went to school at the University of Minnesota on the GI Bill for four years, studying general business.
“I wasn’t really equipped to do anything, except what I learned from my experience growing up in a hardware store,” Harry said. “I took the knowledge I gained there and kept on going.”
In the meantime, Joyce, a native of Eau Claire, Wis., had enrolled in the pre-nursing program at St. Olaf College.
“When I decided to go on to college, my friend and I wanted to go into nursing,” related Joyce, “but my dad said, ‘There’s so many easier things to do in life, Joyce.’ But I decided it didn’t hurt anybody to work hard.”
During her first year of college, the Duluth YWCA came to campus recruiting counselors for summer camp because they’d had good luck with St. Olaf girls in the past. Joyce signed on as a waterfront instructor at the YWCA camp on Big Hanging Horn.
“That’s how I got up here, and that’s how I met Harry!” she explained. “The camp counselors used to date the Barnum boys, but it was more a group deal than an actual date – a bunch of boys and a bunch of girls.”
Something obviously clicked between the two, because after they got back to school they reconnected when he invited her to a dance at his fraternity – the first of many.
“Wasn’t that the time you girls wore those horrible muumuus?” said Harry with a chuckle.
“They had dress-up themes, and it was Hawaiian Night,” explained Joyce. “We had a girl in nurse’s training who was from Hawaii, so she lent us muumuus. But the guys expected us to wear something much different…”
“Grass skirts!” piped up Harry.
After that, the two began dating, and it was about three years from the time they first met on the shores of Big Hanging Horn that they got engaged. A year later, they were married. Their honeymoon was a trip to Dallas, where Harry had gotten a job with Employers Mutual of Wausau. He worked a sales route that covered six or seven states and Joyce did public health nursing for the city of Dallas.
They were there for a couple of years, until Harry’s dad and his brother, who ran the family hardware store in Barnum, decided to expand to a second store in Moose Lake and they talked him into coming back to help out.
“My first choice was to work for the insurance company,” admitted Harry, “but Joyce was pregnant at the time, and they didn’t pay too well at the insurance company.”
The two moved to Barnum in 1952, into a house in the downtown area near the school, and started their family.
“It’s a good place to raise children,” said Joyce. “Our six kids (two boys and four girls) all went to the Barnum schools.”
After going back to work at the family hardware store, Harry admitted to being a bit “dog-faced” for a time, until he “came out of the zone” by getting involved in repairing black and white television sets, followed a few years later by the advent of color TV. His brother Bob worked on plumbing and heating, with Harry helping him out from time to time, but Harry’s primary role was keeping the business’s books.
Harry admitted that hardware stores have changed a lot from that time to this.
“They’re a lot higher priced!” he said. “I shudder to think how little we used to sell things for.”
He said the packaging has also changed a great deal.
“They used to have bins full of nuts and bolts and sell them by the pound,” he said, “and now they come in a package with six little bolts in it.”
Joyce went back to work when their youngest child was in third grade, as a nurse at Mercy Health Care Center in Moose Lake. After 12 years living in town, the family moved to a house on Little Hanging Horn Lake, where they lived for the next 38 years.
And busy as the Solheims were, raising their family and working on their careers, they felt it was important to give back to the community.
“A Boy Scout leader from New York once said they told him at headquarters that everybody in a small town would be crawling all over themselves to help out because there was nothing else to do,” related Harry. “He soon found out there were just as many organizations in a small town – and the same few people supported all of them!”
Harry became a Boy Scout leader and was head of the Barnum Commercial Club (now known as the Community Club), an organization originally made up of business leaders and later broadening its scope to include all community members. He was the Barnum volunteer fire chief for several years, has been a member of the Peterson Westerberg American Legion Post 415 since 1955 and is still instrumental in keeping the Barnum Senior Cribbage Masters team going at the Barnum Senior Center. He, along with Joyce, has donated to the school’s “Dollars for Scholars” program since its inception, and they have been a part of the Barnum Sports Boosters as well.
Along the way, Harry has worked hard and gained the respect of those who have worked alongside him.
“He is the silent glowing star in the community,” attested Shirley Goodwin of the Barnum Area Senior Citizens, who nominated both he and Joyce for the 2013 Carlton County Outstanding Seniors of the Year. “We are so proud to see Harry, at 86, so actively involved in all community and school events.”
Joyce was a den mother for six years and was involved with Girl Scouts for over 25. She served on the Carlton County Public Health Advisory Board, has worked as an after-school tutor, provided transportation to others for church and doctor’s appointments and visited shut-ins, also delivering meals to community members following surgery and illness. She drew upon her nursing skills as part of their church’s parish nursing team, and served in the American Legion Auxiliary and with the Barnum Area Community Club and Senior Center.
Joyce is not the type of person to merely add her name to the membership of a committee or organization, but the one who is always there to pitch in and lend a helping hand.
“Joyce is a wonderful example for all seniors who are looking to get involved,” said Goodwin.
Pastor Phillip Swensson lauded Joyce for “her love for people of all ages,” and Shirley Rudebeck, president of the Barnum Senior Center, attested that Joyce “still is always there, willing to help in any way she can.”
The two of them have also been involved at the Barnum United Methodist Church for many years, serving on the building committee and many other church projects, even during the years they were still actively working and raising a family.
The Solheims eventually sold the hardware store in Barnum to Jack Hoffman, and he bought the one in Moose Lake a year later. Then Harry and Joyce bought Ken Brown Real Estate, which they ran for about 10 years, and at the same time Joyce continued doing nursing in Moose Lake.
In 1999, they sold their house on Little Hanging Horn and began going to Florida for six months each year, where they built a small home and lived there until Harry was diagnosed with Parkinson ’s disease.
“It was a lovely time for seven or eight years,” said Joyce. “We had the best of both worlds, but Harry’s health wasn’t the greatest, so we sold our house and came back here.”
In the meantime, their daughter Julie and her husband, Randy Myhre, had purchased two lots on Big Hanging Horn and built a house on one of them. When Joyce and Harry sold their house in Florida, they moved into that house and the Myhres built a house on the lot next door.
Nowadays, Harry still plays cribbage every Thursday, they go to church on Sundays and they attend a Parkinson’s support group at Inter-Faith Care Center.
“It’s excellent,” said Joyce. “We go with our neighbors and friends – there are a lot of people in Northeastern Minnesota who have Parkinson ’s disease, though no one really seems to know why.”
Their lives are considerably quieter, but they enjoy spending time with family and friends as much as possible, supporting the school and community in whatever way they can and enjoying the cozy, sun-filled home where they now live – on the exact spot where they met all those many, many years ago.