The year was 1905. Teddy Roosevelt was president, women couldn’t vote, the flying machine was a 2-year-old novelty and Gertrude Biede Easterling graduated from what is now Southern Oregon University.
Friday night, at age 108, she returned for her reunion.
In those days the state-run school was the Southern Oregon State Normal School. It closed in 1910 and reopened in 1925. It became the Southern Oregon College of Education in 1939.
She went on to become recorder and treasurer and lives now in a retirement home.
In recent years, the few remaining Normal School alums have gathered for reunions. Jean Calvo, SOU’s director of alumni relations, said they did not know Easterling was still around.
“We didn’t have her in our data-bank because we only go back to 1926,” she said.
But Easterling heard about the reunion and her caregivers called the school to make her reservations for the banquet.
She couldn’t hear much of what went on at the gathering, but she thought of times past.
“Things were very different back then,” she said. “They had only one little dormitory. Mrs. Wagner taught elocution.”
In 1909, the Legislature voted to repeal all normal school appropriations, forcing the students and teachers to ask banks for personal notes to finish the year.
She was born in 1889 in nearby Phoenix and moved to Jacksonville the next year. Her father, Otto Biede, ran a tin shop and hardware store.
It was multicultural, with Chinese miners and railroad laborers from various ethnic groups. Like her parents, she grew up speaking German.
“I have 15 in my mind,” she says of the size of her class. “But I don’t know whether that’s right or not.”
There were no traffic jams.
“I remember there were only two cars in Ashland for quite a while,” she said. “They were owned by real estate dealers who used them to show people properties.”
She married Ollie Easterling in 1940. He died in 1962.
To what does she owe her long life?
“I don’t think I had anything to do with it,” she replied. “It just happened.”
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