Louise and Augie Niemann

Louise and Augie Niemann

Two of our most senior members are living only a stone's throw from Santa's Senior Center these days. I stopped in and visited with them on a beautiful spring day in April while they graciously shared a bit of their story with me.

Ruth Eleanor Louise Wennerstrand arrived on July 6, 1923 in Duluth, Minnesota. The older of two children, she and her sister were raised by parents who farmed in Floodwood, Minnesota, about 18 miles from Meadowlands.

Born in Broken Bow, Oklahoma, August Fritz Niemann, the youngest of four children, was born on August 14, 1920. He and his sisters grew up on the family farm in Meadowlands, Minnesota, which is located between Hibbing and Duluth. When I commented on his unusual name, Augie shared that his father, who had left his native Germany before the war, had given it to him. The lineage on his mother's side is quite impressive. His mother's uncle was Ulysses S. Grant and her family history traces all the way back to Daniel Boone.

Church attendance was a given in both families. The Wennerstrands' attended the local Lutheran church while the Niemanns' were Methodists. Much later, Augie and Louise attended non-denominational Pentecostal churches which eventually lead to their active membership in the Freedom in Christ Ministries Church off Bradway Road.

As a young man, Augie would gaze up into the skies of his family's fields and make note of all the planes that were passing overhead. Although he was exempted from military service, he was enticed to try his own wings, ultimately enlisting in the Eighth Air Force, which was a United States Army Air Forces combat air force in the European theater in WWII.

In his service as a ball turret gunner on B-17 bomber planes, Augie engaged in air to air fighter combat over Germany. During this difficult time, mail from home kept him grounded. He especially enjoyed hearing from a particular captivating young woman he'd met while on military leave over lunch with friends. Augie recalls that he'd been prompted by the Spirit that this was Somebody Special who would make a good mother for his children. He says that at that very moment, he “quit looking.” Louise says she loved him at first sight and loves him more with each passing day. She also added that for many years she kept the romantic love letters Augie wrote her, as they regularly corresponded and got to know each other via the U.S. Postal System. After the war, Augie and his unit voluntarily stayed behind in Europe to help with citizen recovery efforts.

Once back in the USA, Augie and Louise had a total of only three, face-to-face dates before a proposal of marriage was given and accepted. They were joined together in matrimony on July 21, 1945 in a little church in Floodwood, Minnesota. Their first months as bride and groom were spent with Augie's parents on their farm until he went to work for the Duluth Mesabi & Iron Range Railroad, just outside of Proctor. Louise kept their new household running and in time, their family grew to include three daughters and a son, who passed away only a few years ago. Nine grandchildren and nineteen great-grandchildren have now been added to the fold. Fortunately, several live within twenty miles of North Pole, so Louise and Augie are never without loved ones nearby.

They say the secret to their long and happy marriage is enjoying being together, combined with their involvement in church and community. They'll celebrate their sixty-ninth wedding anniversary this coming July, and it is clear to see they continue to be best friends and allies. As a team, they share a special, loving gentleness that we don't often see in many of today's marriages. As I suspected, and Louise verified, there have been times when they've simply agreed to disagree about some things!

Around 1960, one of Augie's sisters and her husband, who was working for the Alaska Railroad in Fairbanks, invited the couple to come up and see what the town had to offer. The timing was great, because Augie was between jobs. Louise stayed behind with the children while Augie traveled to the Interior, interviewed for a position and was quickly hired because of his work experience. After securing suitable housing for his family on Southern Avenue in Aurora, he sent for them. Louise, with her relatively new driver's license in her purse, four children, plus a dog, drove to Montana, picked up a family friend and continued on to Fairbanks. They settled down, and as the kids reached school age, Louise began working outside of the home. Her expertise in the kitchen, her homemaking skills and her love of people all proved invaluable as she secured positions as a cook for Hunter Elementary School, as a cashier in the cafeteria of St. Joseph's Hospital, as a life skills adviser and cook for Headstart and again in the kitchen at the University of Alaska Commons. By the time Augie retired from the Alaska Railroad in the 1970's, their kids were grown and out of the house. Together, they relocated to Arizona, invested their retirement money and went into business with friends. They opened and ran a Christian Book Store in Chandler which led to the expansion of a second store in Casa Grande. Although the shops were doing well enough, it was difficult to compete with larger enterprises in more populated areas nearby. As a result, Augie supplemented their income by working as a cook, painter and a general jack of all trades. Nearly five years later, they decided to turn things over to their associates, because they were hearing the call to devote their time and energy in the mission field. So, with another couple, they began a healing ministry. As a guard in the minimum security Arizona State Penitentiary in Florence, Augie was able to share his faith with many prisoners. They remained in Arizona for seven years before returning to Alaska in 1980, at the urging of their oldest daughter, Rosalind.

Soon after their return to the State, Augie went to work as a maintenance man for First Assembly of God Church in Fairbanks. He was employed there until the spring of 1982. All this while, the couple visited many area churches, seriously seeking one they could serve. Finally, in 1984, they found Freedom in Christ Ministries Church where Augie became the Associate Pastor and Louise was the receptionist. Augie connected with a contractor and was hired to paint and do finish work on a series of houses while Louise worked for Good News Bible & Book Store in Fairbanks. While they were waiting to finalize the purchase on a home of their own, the couple house sat. In October of 1984, they were finally able to make the move and happily settled into their new place, which was built on two acres on Venus Drive, off Plack Road. Here, they hosted many visiting missionaries and guest speakers for their church.

Both Augie and Louise are huge fans of Santa's Seniors and remain ardent supporters. Our records show that they served together as President and Secretary in 1987-88. The two of them have seen many changes in our organization, both in the size of our membership and also in the variety of activities we offer. They have many fond memories of the early years of Santa's Seniors and how much work went into building a strong foundation for our future. According to Augie, it was determined by the members that we be separate from affiliation w ith the Senior Center in Fairbanks. While this was being worked out, the Fairbanks club generously supported us while our meetings were held at the North Pole City Hall. Thanks to their good shepherding, we were able to achieve our goal of independence. It is also gratifying to know that in hard times, we have been able to lend a helping hand to them when they've needed it. As the saying goes, “What goes around, comes around,” or the better known, “Do Unto Others.”

I contacted Rosalind, who helped me with some of the finer details of this interview. Asked to describe her parents, she told me that although they had four biological children, the numbers of people they've adopted as their own and who consider them as Mom and Dad, are countless. Her parents are very loving, generous and actively strong in their faith. They've played an integral part in the success of so many good things that we take for granted in the area and continue to be a blessing to all who come in contact with them.

This couple maintains their good humor and optimistic outlook on life. Since January 2014, age and health issues have led them to arrive at the difficult decision to leave their beloved home and relocate to their new residence at Eagle's Wings Assisted Living right in the heart of North Pole. Here, they don't have to worry about shoveling snow, shopping for groceries, cooking meals or driving on slippery streets. Aside from doctor's appointments, they stick pretty close to their new residence, but now have the time to relax and enjoy the ever-growing numbers of people who simply want to spend time in the shadow of this inspiring couple. They welcome friends, new and old, and invite you to stop by, introduce yourself and chit-chat a while. And, while you're there, don't forget to wish them a VERY Happy Anniversary!

Interview by Francie Cork

Santa's Senior Photo by Sharon Geese

Back to Santa's Seniors Members -->