In it for the Long Haul
Sometimes, you just never know where life will take you.
You start your life off young and full of starry-eyed innocence; a bit naïve, but filled with confidence and hope for a better tomorrow. Whether you’re taking your first steps onto a college campus, into the lobby of a new job, or into a new home, there’s no denying that life is a series of moments that take us on a journey– and sometimes, it isn’t always mapped out for us.
For Claire and Vern Solien? Well, they know a thing or two about journeying.
There is a beautiful, undisturbed snow in the rearview as you turn onto Aadland Avenue, a moment of sparkling white serenity after a few harsh weeks of frigid conditions and a statewide drop in morale. There’s not much room for encouragement as you approach the home of Vern and Clare Solien, where heaping piles of snow have encroached upon the integrity of their fire number, and a few crooked mailboxes evidence of the efforts of snow-removal teams in previous days.
While bleak outside, nothing short of hospitality can be found inside the couple’s home. It is warm and welcoming as you’re ushered inside, a welcome relief from the wind-chill and snow that is seemingly the size of mountains. Vern has just finished reading the paper, and the pair lead you to a lovely sitting room complete with an antique table and chairs, where a picturesque window highlights what has to be a lovely garden in the summertime.
Hanging directly in the center of the wall, however, is a stunning painting of a purple dragonfly that captures your attention almost immediately. Outlined on a beautifully soft yellow back-drop, it is hard-pressed not to be the centerpiece of the room. Commenting on its beauty, Claire does not hesitate to tell the story of how she came to own the piece, which she purchased locally in Buffalo.
The piece is in tribute to one of their grandchildren, Hayden. A tribute, since, at just seven years old, Hayden was tragically killed when a driver lost control of his vehicle while he was standing outside waiting for the bus to take him to school. The driver went on to hit a telephone pole, and was also killed; the accident resulting in two deaths that sorrowful day.
Hayden would have been fourteen this year, Claire shares. There’s a picture of Hayden mounted on a hanging shelf, beside it another piece of dragonfly art. The anniversary of Hayden’s death was Sunday, February 10, a fresh reminder of the family’s loss. However, both Claire and Vern have smiles on their faces, as they both try to remember the memory of Hayden with gladness and fondness.
So why dragonflies, you ask?
“Well, Hayden told everyone he wanted to be an entomologist and study insects,” Claire shares with a chuckle. “As a day job, anyway. In the nights, he wanted to be a paleontologist.”
From there, Claire and Vern have no trouble opening up and sharing about their life together. Married on October 11 of 1958, the couple celebrated 60 years together last October.
Vern was born in Gully, Minnesota, and is seven year’s Claire’s senior. She was born and raised in Proctor, an old iron-ore community in St. Louis County. Vern faithfully served his country for three years as an engineer, seeing the frontlines of Korea, and eventually ending up in France.
They met when Claire’s brother brought Vern home from a day working at the docks in Proctor, where they steamed ore in train cars before loading them on large ships. Those were the days when kids walked to school, and Claire remembers that her dad often walked to work, since they did not have a car for many years.
“My brother brought Vern home one day from steaming,” Claire remembers. “It was never a clean job, so they were both filthy. But, he was a nice guy, and we were glad to have him.”
Vern comments that from there, the rest was history. “We met in 1957, after I came up from Missouri and met her brother. My uncle got me into steaming ore for work. At the time, all I really had was my clothes and a ’54 Crown Victoria that I loved but was a bear in the winter.”
The two would marry on October 11, the following year.
On the move
A year after their marriage, the pair moved from Minnesota to New Mexico, after Vern found that work in the siding business was slow in the cold winters of Minnesota. The pair had family in Michigan, who had told them that there was booming work in mining uranium in New Mexico, and announced their move. Vern and Claire would soon follow, and packed what they had. They arrived in New Mexico on Friday 13, 1959.
“We didn’t know really anyone,” Claire shared. “We ended up staying in a silver trailer for awhile, until we landed on our feet and were able to find an apartment.”
Vern laughed at the memory. “Every time the wind blew and we were living in that silver trailer, Claire wanted to go home. There was hardly anything there, the walls were paper thin.”
It was quite a change for the pair, though they would live there for a number of years. Mount Taylor wasn’t far off at 12,000 feet, and they lived at 7,000 elevation altitude for “a good while.” They would reside in New Mexico for eight-and-a-half years, where Vern worked “odd jobs” for a short time, and Claire working in the office of a mill.
From their trailer, they were fortunate enough to take over payments on a nice home, where they started their family. It was there where Vern would start truck driving, and would continue to do so for 35 years. In 1960, he began driving a truck.
Then, from New Mexico, the family decided it was time to move to Pueblo, Colorado.
“I took over a truck that ended up blowing an engine in Denver. My boss licensed a new Kenworth in New Mexico, but the trailer was licensed in Denver, which I got a kick out of. It was then I started hauling oil field pipe from Colorado to Dallas.”
With Claire now a homemaker for their family, Vern would continue driving a truck all across the nation. He drove for Cenex, which was formerly the Farmers Union Central Exchange, before driving with Western Co-op. Then, he worked for Abbott Labs for five years, and that is when he took a job driving to St. Paul for a beverage outfit, after his job went on strike.
“I put on one-hundred thousand miles in nine months,” Vern shared. “I worked hard driving for that beverage outfit. After that, we decided to move to Maple Lake, where I started driving for Lake Region Co-op Oil.”
So, from Pueblo, the family moved back home to Minnesota. Vern would retire in 1996, having spent the last 10 years of his career driving for Ben Franklin. Claire retired from Wright County office work in 2003.
Once retired, Vern competed in Truck Rodeo Competitions, driving tandem trucks. He did well, and ended up competing in California for a national title. The second year he competed, he brought that title home. He has his plaques hanging proudly on the wall, and does not hesitate showing them off whenever possible.
They have resided in Buffalo for 42 years.
60 years...and counting
Vern and Claire celebrated 60 years of life together last October. They shared that respect is one of the strongest things they have learned as a pair, and that without respect, they don’t know how they’d have gotten as far as they have.
“It’s difficult when your husband is gone days and weeks at a time,” Claire shared. “You learn how to be both parents, and do things you never thought you’d have to do. I learned to respect Vern’s place in our home, and he learned how to respect me. It takes trust and loyalty to make a marriage like that work.”
“There’s been a lot of change in the world since we married,” Vern said. “Living in Colorado and New Mexico, there wasn’t so much racial tension back then. People were people, and we worked together. It’s quite different now.”
“You just learn to live with people,” Claire added. “They are people like we are. It taught us a lot about the world, and I guess in a way, it prepared us for days like today.”
Claire and Vern continue to reside in Minnesota. They have four children, residing in St. Michael, Elk River, Montrose, and near Beebe Lake.
To put it in Vern’s own words, the Soliens are truly in it for the long haul.