MARYSVILLE — A peach tea jug with a chrome spout was perched on a counter at the Marysville Historical Society for Ferne Ullestad’s 100th birthday party Saturday.
It was a bit full circle for the centenarian. Decades ago, Ferne Ullestad served up homemade canned peaches on toast for guests at her home in Marysville’s Sunnyside neighborhood.
The Ullestad home was always a “safe haven,” her daughter Wanda Reed said. She always whipped up something for her four kids — Darwen, Dean, Sharon and Wanda — and their friends.
“She burnt dinners often,” Reed said, laughing. “She was known for her hospitality, not her cooking. … She loves unconditionally.”
At her birthday party, the love was reverberating through tables full with over 50 family members coming from as far as Missouri. At the front was Ferne Ullestad, embracing cousins, nieces and nephews — some of whom she hadn’t seen for years.
Ferne Ullestad is losing her vision and hearing, but with her forehead pressed against others’ she remembered who they were and, often, broke into a wide smile. She held family members tightly by the arms or shoulders while catching up.
Ferne Ullestad told The Daily Herald she credits her longevity to her kids.
“It was through all their help,” she said, smiling.
Just five years ago, Ferne Ullestad shook her head when her daughter Sharon Volker said she’d be a record-breaker in her family if she made it to 100.
“She’s always told me, ‘No way, I don’t want to live to 100,” her son Darwen Ullestad said.
Ferne Ullestad turned 100 on April 6, and she waited a few more weeks for the party Saturday. As people starting filling the historical society, she spread her arms wide with a “100 and fabulous” sash draped over her shoulder.
She kept asking her sister Ruby Linde for a list of all the guests so she could thank them after the party, Linde said.
Volker said if she has learned anything from her mother over the years, it’s to love and care for others. That’s probably what brought her back to Marysville to care for her aging mother in the 2010s, she said.
All four of Ferne Ullestad’s kids were adopted soon after she and her husband, Bob Ullestad, moved to Marysville in the 1960s.
As a middle child in a family of 11 kids, Ferne Ullestad has always been a caregiver, Linde said.
She grew up on a small farm in North Dakota where the family worked and lived both by daylight and the seasons. They woke early to care for the cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys and horses. In the fall, they spent hours canning fruit.
Linde, now 94, remembers bumping down the road to Devils Lake High School in North Dakota with her brother Ralph Berg at the wheel of the family’s Model A Ford.
Linde’s older sister Ferne helped care for her and their siblings, Ralph Berg, Cleo Carlson and Dennis Berg. They lived “on the wrong side of the county road,” so they had to drive 9 miles to school, instead of 2, to the nearest high school.
Ferne Ullestad always made it happen.
“She was the boss,” Linde said.
She was also a boss on the basketball court, where she helped lead her high school team to multiple state championships in the 1930s, her son Darwen Ullestad said.
Newspaper clippings from the ’80s reveal Ferne Ullestad passed on her athletic prowess to her kids.
Ferne Ullestad often drove her kids to tournaments and came to fundraisers at the local drive-in burger joint.
While raising her four kids, she built relationships across the community, despite having “never been much of a socialite,” Linde said.
At Volker’s childhood watering holes — like the Arctic Circle on State Avenue and the Burger Stop on Second Avenue — people always greeted Ferne Ullestad by name. Even today, the Biringer family still remembers her when she comes to the Arlington farmstand to pick up a basket of strawberries, Volker said.
“My mom always took people for who they were,” Darwen Ullestad said. “She was never judgmental about anybody. She always had the kindness in her heart to forgive everything anybody did wrong. That’s just who she is — a pretty rare breed.”
Over the years, Ferne Ullestad watched strawberry fields turn into subdivisions. The farmland across from the Ullestad kids’ childhood home became apartments.
Marysville stayed the same at its core. Ferne Ullestad said, “I always enjoyed the people.”