Lake Country Faces: Pine River artist turns 100
Myrle Dabill has lived a life worth living and touched many lives.
PINE RIVER — Well known Pine River artist Myrle Dabill reached the golden age of 100 on March 15.
Her March 20 celebration brought important people from her life to come wish her well, including adopted children and their children from all over the country. Dabill was proud to show off the seven boquets of flowers and the pile of cards gifted to her.
Dabill is well known in the community, in her 100 years she's left her mark on canvases and people alike.
Dabill was born a Cusey south and west of Backus. Her memories of that time are full of rare insight into the local history.
"I remember going into Backus with my folks," Dabill said. "We rode in our Model T open air. We had a top to it but we liked to have it without the top on in the summertime. When we got to Backus we went to the grocery store. A man there picked me up and set me on his shoulder. I put my arm around his head to hold and we walked around the store back and forth. I remember that was wonderful. I've never forgotten that.
That was Coffland Mercantile likely owned at the time by Harley Coffland.
Dabill said rides into town like that were rare, as gasoline was sparse and hard to get. They mostly traveled into town to get the absolute necessities and did their best with what they had back home.
The family grew a garden and raised animals. Her father was a carpenter and her mother a homemaker who Dabill remembers was an exceptionally skilled cook.
Dabill grew up with four siblings, though her sister was nine years older than any of the others, and moved away early on. Dabill spent a lot of time with her two brothers, one older and one younger than her.
"(Mom) said she always had two families," Dabill said. "We enjoyed our older sister and grew up with her daughters. She lived just south of us a little ways."
Like many, Dabill started working at a young age. At 10 years old she remembers her aunt asked her to weed a row of carrots in the garden and paid her 10 cents for it. Later she earned more money by watering the plants at the school house half a mile away.
Dabill had her first brush with love at the early age of six. The family went to a mill in town. Her eight year old brother made friends with another eight year old at the mill, and the black-haired boy immediately enamored her.
"I stood there and we just looked at each other and that was it," Dabill said. "I thought to my heart and to myself, that's the man."
Years later, Dabill's family moved closer to town. She and her brothers decided to go have fun roller skating at the Armory.
"There was this tall guy there that looked familiar, but I didn't know him," Dabill said. "He asked me to skate and it was the guy I wanted in the first place."
Both the boy at the sawmill and the boy she skated with were Don Dabill. They became a couple after that day.
Growing up, Dabill remembers a lot of teachers at the various school houses in the Pine River or Backus countryside as well as the Park Rapids area where they lived briefly. They must have left a mark on Dabill, because she decided to become a teacher herself.
Dabill taught in various school houses, one halfway to Staples, one just six miles from home and even one in Chicago, where she moved after marrying her long time boyfriend. She said the wedding was planned around his leave from the military. He came home and she immediately bought the only wedding dress they could find in Brainerd and immediately went to Chicago to hold the wedding.
During the Nuremberg Trials, her husband deployed again and served as a guard at the trials.
"He was there as a guard, standing right in the vicinity of the trial, watching," Dabill said. "He said Goering was a pitiful sight. He was always so big and proud and pompous. Then he was in faded, wrinkled pajamas."
While he was overseas, Dabill came back to the area and continued teaching. When he came home they moved in together. They moved from place to place for a while and eventually raised a family together.
"We were told that we were not going to have children," Dabill said. "So we made up our mind that we would adopt."
And adopt they did. They raised several children. She said sometimes it was easy going, and sometimes it was more challenging, but they made a life of it.
Along the way the pair became known for their artistic ways, Myrle for her painting and Don for his poetry. She had always dabbled in art. Growing up on the farm she said they didn't even have a radio, so she and her brothers often spent much of their time drawing at the kitchen table. Her interest in art, and talent, only grew from there.
Myrle became a well known and respected member of the Pine River Art Club. While a member, the club hosted art sale events, invited big artists to come provide workshops for the club members and generally worked to hone their skills. She says she remembers that for 22 years the club hosted shows and sold quality, local art at fair prices.
As for Don, he developed a love of poetry.
"I don't think he did any poetry to speak of until we were married," Dabill said. "But then he would go around speaking poetry. Sometimes I'd have to tell him 'that's enough of that now.' I don't think I did that more than once or twice. It was a little joke, but he could think of some of the weirdest or funniest or most interesting things to write about."
Together they published "We Still Like it Here" an anthology of his poetry and her paintings.
Myrle gave up painting years ago when her hands started shaking too much. She still has a small collection of her art around, as well as four of her favorite pieces, each destined to be inherited by her children. Don died in 2009, bringing an end to the romantic journey they began when Dabill was only six years old.
Dabill now lives in Riverside Villas. During the summer she likes to garden around the facility, and when its warm enough she gets her exercise walking on the sidewalk outside.
In her apartment, memories surround her. Along with the art on the walls are a doll she has had as long as she can remember, a tea pot that reminds her of her mother and her long black hair, flowers that remind her of the gardens she's long tended and photographs of Don and the children they raised together all carefully arranged and tended to with care.
Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or firstname.lastname@example.org.