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Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014

Gena Paulson

Monday, July 2, 2007

Gena (Gean) Marie Paulson Gustafson from Aurelia, died on May 14, 2007. A service will be held on July 6, 2007 at noon at the Pleasant Hill Cemetery in Aurelia.

Gena was born Feb. 12, 1909, near Bergen, N.D. Her parents, Bernhard, born Jan. 5, 1886 in Aurelia, and Etta Robbins Paulson, born Sept. 4, 1886 in Storm Lake, homesteaded a farm in N.D., and had a son Leslie and another daughter, Ann [Willbrandt] before moving back to Aurelia in 1912.

Three more girls were born in Aurelia: Gladys [Nicks], Vivian, and Irene [Goeb]. Bernhard became his father's assistant at the Wisconsin Lumber Yard, and later owned lumberyards in the area and was the contractor for several houses in Aurelia. Etta was a Practical Nurse for many years.

After graduating from high school, Gean went to Iowa State Teachers College (now the University of Northern Iowa), taught in a one-room country schoolhouse and at a larger school in Gaza.

She spent the summer and fall of 1932 coaching the Home Talent play, "Henry's Wedding" for the Universal Producing Company. The company provided costumes and scenery, and she went to towns in Minnesota and Iowa, holding auditions and teaching the local townspeople how to perform the show, including the dance numbers and songs, one of which was "Daisy", a song she would occasionally break into for the next 75 years.

She visited the 1933-34 Chicago World's Fair, and through her best friend Eloys Nelson, met her future husband, John. They corresponded after she returned to Iowa. She made a return trip to the fair with three of her sisters, and she and John were secretly married. (Teachers were not supposed to be married.) She briefly returned to her Iowa teaching job, then joined John in Chicago.

Their two children are Robert, born in 1937, who has a PhD from MIT and lives in Chicago with his wife, Thyra Zerhusen. They have a son Alexander who lives in Zurich. Susan, born in 1943, has spent most of her life working in the theatre in New York City.

Proving that age was no barrier, she finished her college degree at Roosevelt University in Chicago at the age of 54. And she joined the Peace Corps at 56, teaching English for two years to high school children in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

During her 98 years on earth, she often said that Aurelia was the best place in the world to grow up. She was a small-town girl at heart and never stopped believing that other people were as good as she was. She was enormously generous to all, but in her eyes she was only being fair. She will be missed by everyone who ever knew her.