The oldest North Dakotan and the seventh-oldest person in the world is dead at age 115.
Iris Westman died Sunday at the Northwood, N.D., nursing home where she'd lived since 2012. According to the Gerontology Research Group, Westman at her death was also the second-oldest living American.
Family members recalled a delightful character who was sharp right until the end. In a video interview two years ago with the farm magazine AgWeek, Westman was animated and eloquent as she described growing up on a North Dakota farm in the early years of the 20th century.
Katie Pinke, a great-great-niece, said Westman "was always the epitome of a lady. She was so polite and kind and put together. She always shared such grace and kindness."
Westman never married or had children, but Pinke said she cultivated relationships with her many generations of nieces and nephews.
"She was pen pals with generations of family," Pinke said. "She wrote us letters and sent us savings bonds for birthdays and Christmas. She could always make you feel special."
Born in 1905 on a farm in Aneta, N.D., Westman graduated from the University of North Dakota in 1928 and was an English teacher and school librarian in several North Dakota and Minnesota cities, including a long tenure in Worthington, Minn.
Westman set a standard for education in the family when she graduated from college in the 1920s, a time when relatively few Americans — and especially women — had a college degree.
She later earned a library science certificate from the University of Minnesota, attending summer classes during breaks in the school years. Westman took great joy in receiving letters from former students who had become educators because of her influence, Pinke said.
Asked the secret of her longevity, Westman said, "I've eaten properly and lived decently." But ultimately, she added, "That's God's business."
John Reinan • 612-673-7402