Iris Blossom and Boxing Gloves, written by Avis Iris Wright (Iris Avis Segelstrom), is a series of essays that tell the story of life for siblings Iris, Bruce and Alfred Segelstrom living in separate cottages at the State Public School Orphanage at Owatonna, MN in the early 1940s. The Segelstrom family fell on hard times after the Great Depression and a series of unfortunate events led to the three of the youngest children being taken from their parents and sent to live in the orphanage.
The author shares her memories and those of her siblings in their own words. Their stories will touch your heart. Of particular interest to Maud Hart Lovelace fans, is that Alfred Segelstrom was adopted by Frank and Helen (Hart) Fowler. Helen is Maud Hart Lovelace’s youngest sister and the character of Margaret Ray in the Betsy-Tacy books.
Alfred was nearly 10 years old when he was taken to the orphanage and remembers spending his 10th birthday there on March 10, 1939. He shares his memories of home life, foster homes and
living in the orphanage.
In March 1943, Alfred went to live with Frank and Helen Fowler in Forest Lake, MN and was adopted by them in 1944. I wrote to Iris after reading her book and asked what she remembered about Frank and Helen. She replied; “The Fowlers owned two movie theaters and a roller rink. Frank was a brusque, harsh person, as I recall. Helen was a slender, very fragile-appearing person and was so kind and good to Bruce and me. Helen must have been a wonderful mother to my brother Alfred. He wanted Frank and Helen to adopt Bruce and me, but our foster parents, Ralph and Elfie Sutherland, would not give us up, though they never adopted us.”
“Bruce and I were invited to visit Alfred and his parents, Frank and Helen Fowler, at one time. I still remember seeing a movie. “Ah! Sweet Mystery of Life at Last I Found Thee” was the theme song. (ed note: this movie was Naughty Marietta from 1935).
I still remember Alfred, at age 16, flying a Piper Cub Airplane from Forest Lake, MN to the Sutherland farm near Fountain, MN and landing the airplane in our farm field. He was checking on his younger siblings. His living situation was very different from the Sutherlands, who did not have indoor plumbing or electricity, when Bruce and I went to live with them.”
Helen Fowler was later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and she and Frank moved to Florida and then to California. When they moved to Florida, Alfred (age 15) went to live with Frank’s parents in Minneapolis and finished high school.
Iris wrote; “When I graduated from Chatfield High School in 1952, I worked at a Chatfield insurance company. Alfred, then married to Patsy O’Brien and living in Santa Ana, California, invited me to come visit them in the summer of 1955. Patsy is a very vivacious lady. I did learn to stand up for myself from Patsy. She also helped me to shop for clothes, as Patsy and Al owned “Patsy’s Clothes Closet,” a retail second-hand clothing store. So occasionally I did see Frank and Helen at that time. Helen was a gracious, gentle lady. I do remember that Frank had white, curly haired dogs—what breed I do not know. I can still see Helen in my mind’s eye, so slender, so unassuming.”
If interested in this book, please contact the author to order a copy write: Iris Wright, 302 Bench Street SW, Chatfield, MN, 55923.