Hilda Bertilson Shaffer

Honored by:Anne Ahrens
Brick location:B:11  map

Nurturing, loving wife and mother. Devoted grandma. Dedicated Christian woman. Source of joy and inspiration to others. Such are the salient characteristics of Hilda Mathilda Bertilson Shaffer. This heroine was born on a rural Iowa farm near Dows on March 17, 1885. Ninety-two years later she was laid to rest in the Otis Grove cemetery a stone's throw from her birthplace.

Her parents and three older siblings traveled from Herdahl, Norway, to Franklin County, Iowa in 1883. Like many immigrants, they were industrious and toiled long hours to break the soil and begin a new life. The children worked beside them and learned the value of hard work to complete a task. The Bertilson family was active in the community and helped to establish the Otis Grove Lutheran church. Hilda was the first child baptized there.

At age 28, Hilda married Edward James Shaffer. They raised five children, J.M. "Bus" McAdams, Willard Shaffer, Morris Shaffer, Milo Shaffer, and Maxine Shaffer Ahrens. In addition, two children (Marie and Elaine) died at birth and age two, respectively. Hilda's family meant everything to her and she sacrificed dearly for them. She sold two opal rings to buy milk during the depression and used her internal strength and initiative to ensure her family's survival. Ed and Hilda worked side by side as husband and wife for over fifty years and celebrated their golden anniversary in 1963.

Hilda's many friends of all ages were a great joy to her. Throughout her life, she knew the value of friendship and took the effort to develop genuine, lasting friendships. In later years she loved to be surrounded by her many grandchildren and other young people. One of her dearest friends, Berdelia Schwab, lived at the end of a short grass path through their gardens. Hilda and "Birdy" shared a common Norwegian heritage, Christian faith and strong value system. They often shared afternoon coffee and a gingersnap cookie, slice of lemon meringue pie, piece of raspberry jelly roll, or some other specialty Hilda enjoyed making for guests.

Like many women of her generation, she enjoyed making a home for her family and took great pride in her domestic activities. Cooking and baking were Hilda's specialties. Lutefisk (which her grandchildren rebuked with the Norwegian phrase "uff da") and lefse were holiday Norwegian treats as well as hand rolled kringla. Hilda wore a dress every day of her life and always sported a fresh apron as she toiled in the kitchen or garden.

While Hilda's life was not easy, she maintained her strong faith and values. Visitors to her small home were quick to identify the guiding force in her life. Her beliefs were most evident through her actions. Her Bible, earmarked and well used, was always open near her favorite oak rocking chair. A plaque which read, "This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it" was the first thing people saw as they entered her home. She loved children and taught hundreds of children through decades of service as a Sunday School teacher.

Hilda enjoyed her retirement years and was not content to sit back and be old. She and Ed flew on a jet for the first time when she was in her late 70's. She had cataract surgery when she was in her late 80's which enabled her to continue her love of reading. In her early 90's she rode her first snowmobile.

In 1975, Hilda celebrated her 90th birthday with a special gathering of family and friends at First Lutheran Church in Dows, Iowa. She was a modest woman, but her 90th year was cause for a "doings" as she called any special occasion. Typical Lutheran church food was provided by the Ladies' Aid and her guests enjoyed the usual fare of open-face dried beef sandwiches on white bread, red jello with bananas and a variety of rich desserts. These foods were typical of the countless lunches Hilda had helped prepare for the "doings" of her family and church friends.

Hilda enjoyed good health until the end of her days in June 1977 at the age of 92. She remained in her own home until her death and had planted a garden that spring as she did each year as a sign of growth and new life. While her family and many friends can no longer enjoy her quick smile and easy laugh, she lives on in the happy memories of all who knew and loved her.

Submitted on 7/1/96