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Love is key to her longevity; former teacher prepares for centennial birthday

The memories flow back like they happened yesterday for Bernice Pace.

With little effort, the former one-room schoolteacher rattles off each of the eight schools where she taught. Dates are a bit harder to recall but, with a little time, the numbers come back as well.

And faces. Those are almost unforgettable.

Reaching far within her memory bank, Pace smiles as she thinks about her former students. One would never guess she was turning 100 years old next Monday.

With the intelligence, wit and articulation of someone more than half her age, Pace said the key to her longevity is simple.

"I've always loved people and have always wanted to make them laugh even if I have to tell a risqué story," she said. "That laughter has kept me young at heart."

Working with students, of course, has helped Pace keep in touch with her younger side, she said.

Pace's work as a teacher started when she graduated high school in Ellsworth at age 16. She got her first job in a one-room schoolhouse - the Fargo School - in the town of River Falls where she taught grades one through eight.

Since Pace said teachers were usually forced to move from school to school within a few years' time in the mid-1900s, she never stayed in one place for too long.

When retirement finally came for the popular educator, she was teaching at the North Red Wing School.

During her career, Pace made eight schools in Pierce County her home-away-from home.

Pace's great-niece, Mary Hauschildt, said the affect her aunt has had on her students is obvious.

"She's a very vibrant person," Hauschildt said. "Some of her students still come to see her. That just shows that she's touched a lot of people's lives."

Though never her student, long-time friend Jim Tostrud remembers Pace taking care of him as a small child.

Often, Tostrud said he followed Pace to school before he was old enough to attend classes.

Tostrud's interaction with Pace was frequent, he said. And now, as she reaches a milestone with her 100th birthday, Tostrud is amazed at how a century has seemed to have little effect on the woman he came to know.

"If it weren't for her eyesight, she'd be out there doing the things I am doing," he said. "She's just an all-around pleasant lady."

Being pleasant may be something Pace has had practice with in her long life.

Learning to ignore the little things has also come in handy. So has her sense of humor.

In fact, Pace said her ability to laugh helped her get through World War I. She was 13 years old at the time.

"I made the best of the situation," she said. "And my parents were very loving and sheltering at the time. I know they were."

Making the best of a situation still comes in handy for Pace. With diminishing eyesight - her only major health problem - playing cards, reading or watching television becomes a task.

With her husband long gone, talking about the past with those who come to visit Pace is something she never gets tired of. After all, 100 years of memories is a lot to talk about.

There's the two years Pace spent living in the Pierce County Jail while her father was sheriff; there's all the miles she rode her horse back and forth to school; the students from whom she has learned so much over the years; and the nights she used to dance until her feet were sore.

Pace said she'd do all those things again if she still could. Thankfully, all she has to do is close her eyes and the memories appear like they happened yesterday.

An open-house birthday party has been planned for Pace at The West Wind Supper Club on North Main Street. The public is welcome to attend from 2-5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23.