By Robert Lucke
Editor's note: Louise Wigmore died Sunday. Robert Lucke had interviewed her recently for the final installment of the Neighbor series.
A couple of years ago she started referring to herself as "Old 98," as though she were a very long-running Great Northern locomotive. Then last year she was "Old 99," still running like an engine speeding from Marias Pass to the roundhouse in Havre.
On Thursday, she would have turned into "Old 100."
She is Louise Wigmore and her life in Havre is Havre itself. Wigmore was the only child of John and Cora Clack to be born in Havre. The Clack family had come to Havre from the Paris and Fort Worth area of Texas around the turn of the century. Siblings of Louise included Maude, Phil, H. Earl and Weaver. They homesteaded south of Havre and had a family home at 326 First Ave.
Born in Havre in 1902, Louise Wigmore saw most everything there was to see about how Havre has grown through the decades. She saw it go from a rowdy, horse-and-buggy range town to a city of homes and boulevards. It was those boulevards and sidewalks that were most interesting to her.
"When I was a girl I had a pair of roller skates," she said. "When I walked out to the ranch I hid them under the last board of the boardwalk in Havre and when I got back to town, I would pick them up and roller-skate."
That was the rub. There was only one stretch of sidewalk to roller-skate on in the whole town. That was in front of the Stringfellow house at 324 Second Ave.
When Louise was grown, her brother H. Earl Clack had started to expand several area businesses and Louise was hired to work in Clack's office. While working there she met LeGrand Wigmore, who had come to this area to build a grain elevator in Burnham and later went to work in one of Clack's gas stations. They had one daughter, Cora Mae. Both LeGrand and Cora Mae have passed on. Louise's companion for the last eight years of her life was her cat, Frankie.
As far as being 100 goes, Louise addressed it philosophically.
"At 100 I am just glad that I can talk at all," she said, smiling. "When I was 50 I could not have imagined living to 100. That seemed so far away."
For years, Louise worked at Clack's Hardware in Havre. After living in several Havre homes, she and LeGrand finally built their dream house close to the Clack family home south of Havre.
She remembered Havre's historic characters as though she had just talked to them this morning.
"I didn't know C.W. Young, but his manager, Mr. Murdock, and his wife lived next door to us. Mrs. Murdock was one of the girls from Shorty Young's. Mrs. Young used to drive by in her buggy. Mrs. Murdock knew all about them."
She saw F.A. Buttrey's son Harry take his brother, Ted, in a baby buggy and let it roll all the way down the First Avenue hill. She could never figure out why that buggy didn't tip over.
The affair the Rev. L.J. Christler and Mrs. Carlton had, which eventually ended in the death of both of them, was the talk of the town when Wigmore was in high school.
"We girls followed Christler and Carlton around just to see what was going to happen next," Wigmore said. "One day Christler and Carlton were having coffee in the Dutch Shop and my friends and I were in a nearby booth keeping an eye on them. Mrs. Christler came in the front door and Christler and Carlton saw her and scooted out the back."
Wigmore never did meet Havre outlaw Long George Francis but she remembered with a smile that when he was around folks hid all their possessions.
Baptized in the Havre Presbyterian church when she was 2, she joined the church at 14 and remained a member for the rest of her life. She shared her thoughts about the "new" church on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Seventh Street.
"A fellow named Case came through. He was a church builder and tried to convince us that we needed a new church, which we built," Wigmore said. "You know we never needed that church. We needed the old church, which is now the Baptist church."
Wigmore's favorite ministers through the years were Conrad Wellen and Ernest Greenlund.
Looking back, it didn't take her a moment to think of the best of all improvements in Havre.
"I think it was when all of Havre had water and when Cash Tayor built all the cement sidewalks through town."
Wigmore could hardly believe all the changes in the world during her life. She said it must be much more difficult to raise children in Havre these days than when the community was more isolated. That makes her sad.
As to advice for others about making it to 100, she had none. As to how she made it, she knows the answer to that without a pause.
"It must be my Texas heritage," she said, smiling.