A Leap Day treasure: Former school teacher Winnie Cain set to celebrate 23rd birthday

Winnie Cain is pictured with daughter Connie and son-in-law Bob Christiansen.
Bethany Carson

Not many people born in 1948 can truthfully say they’re celebrating their 23rd birthday this year. But Winnie Cain of Shell Rock can. She was born 92 years ago on Leap Day, Feb. 29, and looks forward to celebrating her birthday with a card shower. 

     Winifred Cain is a beloved former school teacher, with many fond memories going back to one-room schoolhouse days, where kids’ antics made for some riveting tales.

     “I remember the pranks the kids played on me. The first day, they put a frog in my desk,” Cain said.

     Cain was raised in West Union. As a girl, she enjoyed roller-skating, ice-skating and playing cat’s cradle and hopscotch. She also enjoyed crocheting, playing jacks, hide-and seek, post office, red light green light and monopoly. Her family had a big garden and an outhouse, and she had lots of kids to play with.

     “My chores were easy. I mowed the lawn with the push mower. We had hard quack grass. On Saturday, I polished all the shoes in the house,” said Cain.

     She also did the dishes and cleaned the upstairs once a week.

     Cain was raised during the Depression when everyone was poor. Sometimes her dad made only a dollar a day. He was loving and friendly to all, and ran a filling station.  Her mom was a great cook and baker.

     In high school, Cain played the clarinet and was a majorette in marching band. She wrote for the school paper, was student director of her senior class play and president of the Girl Reserves. She was involved in many activities, but her favorite sports were tennis and ice skating. She was also very good at ping pong.

     Cain worked as a receptionist for a doctor in West Union at the age of 17. She cleaned the waiting room, sterilized instruments, helped the doctor with children, typed letters and sent in blood samples.

     She started teaching at the age of 19 with her elementary certificate, taught one year, and then returned to the Iowa State Teacher’s College in Cedar Falls to earn her Bachelor’s degree in 1949.

     “I always wanted to be a teacher,” Cain said.

     Winnie came to Shell Rock to teach high school English. One of her students introduced her to Charles “Chuck” Cain at a dance at the AMVET building in Shell Rock—but that wasn’t exactly their first meeting. Chuck worked at Standard Oil, and she had noticed him whistling at her when she would walk by on her way home from teaching.

     They enjoyed dates at movies and dances. Their song was “It Had to be You.”

     They married in 1950, when Winnie was 22.

     “I knew right away it was who I wanted, and I was older. A lot of my girlfriends married right out of high school, but I was ready to get married,” Cain said.

     The Cain brothers played on the Shell Rock baseball team and competed against other towns.

     “I thought Chuck would never quit playing baseball,” said Cain.

     Chuck spent a majority of his career working at his filling station—Cain’s DX. They also had a car wash.

     Chuck and Winnie’s first house together didn’t have running water.

     They were married for 65 years and have two children, Jack (Mary) and Connie (Bob) Christiansen. They also have three grandchildren, Jennifer Cain Nichols (husband Kent), Emily Drew (Troy), and Karla (deceased), as well as two great grandchildren: Andrew Nichols and Samantha Kramer (Luke). Recent additions to the family are great great grandchild Wyatt Kramer–and one baby on the way.

     Cain has always loved her family–and had an interest in the lives of her former students. She keeps clippings from the paper about her students, even if she hasn’t seen them in years.

     “She’s very caring and thoughtful of everyone, all of her old students, and all the relatives, nieces and nephews–they adore her,” daughter Connie Christiansen said.

     Great-grandson Andrew Nichols remembers she always used to walk down to the elementary school to eat lunch with him when he was a small child.

     “She and great grandpa were wild and fun, always laughing about something,” Nichols said. “They had all these tennis trophies, and I always thought they were professional ping pong players.”

     Winnie remembers holidays when the whole Cain clan would gather around a beautifully set table. Connie remembers how awesome it was for everyone to sit around the table on weekends. She and her cousins would run and play outside.

     From the time Winnie was 12 years old until she was 65, she loved playing tennis. She helped found the Shell Rock tennis club with a few others.

     Dr. Everson’s box socials were always very fun parties, Winnie remembered. One time after they ate, they played the oldywed game (as opposed to the newlywed game), and she and her husband won the grand prize: a canoe boat trip down the Shell Rock River with luggage—old brown bags from the grocery store.

     The family often enjoyed vacations camping, fishing, and visiting national parks and a cabin in Minnesota.

     “We were always on the Shell Rock River every weekend,” Cain said.

     Winnie taught for a total of 18 years and retired in her early 40s so she and Chuck could travel together.

     Connie’s husband was in the Air Force, and Winnie and Chuck visited them wherever they were stationed. They visited Las Vegas, Florida, Scotland and England and took family trips to Branson, Hawaii, New Orleans, Washington D.C. and Columbus, Ohio. They also visited relatives in Oklahoma many times.

     Cain also served as the historian for the American Legion Auxiliary for over 50 years.

     Join her on Leap Day with birthday wishes celebrating a life well lived.

Edit: We are saddened to report that Winnie Cain passed away on Feb. 12. Her obituary is available at https://www.kaisercorson.com/obituaries/Winifred-Caryl-Cain?obId=11095405#/obituaryInfo


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