‘Wind, Rain And Snow’

City Woman Stays Active, Plays Sports Into Her 80s

A photo taken of a Jamestown High School cheerleading squad in the 1940s. Viola Carlson is second from left. Submitted photo

Viola Swanson Carlson was born on March 3, 1925 in Jamestown.

“I was a very healthy child,” she said.

Her father worked at Crescent Tool for 45 years and her mother was a charge nurse at WCA Hospital and later became the head nurse in maternity after moving to Jamestown General Hospital.

“She delivered my two kids and gave them their first spankings,” said Carlson.

“My mom and dad both worked so we stayed (during the summer months) on my grandma and grandpa’s farm on Yankee Bush Road in Warren. When they collected the hay, we would tamp it down with our feet so they could get more hay on the wagon and we used to go get the cows,” the nonagenarian reminisced.

Pictured is the Carlson family sitting together in the 1950s. Submitted photo

From first through fifth grades, she attended school at the one-room Hall Avenue School and sixth grade at Fairmount Avenue School. She then attended Lincoln Junior High, near her 322 Palmer Street home. “All I had to do was roll out of bed and go to school.”

She was a basketball and football cheerleader during her last year in junior high and during the three years she spent at Jamestown High School.

“Those cheerleading pictures mean a lot to me. We worked hard in wind, rain and snow. Mr. Peterson, a chemistry teacher, was our cheerleading coach. He once drove us to Alliance, Ohio. There were six of us in that car. There weren’t many guys left, so we didn’t have a very good team,” she remembers. “That was a bad situation in my senior year because half of the boys had to go war. My husband was one of them.”

She also played volleyball and basketball.

“We had to play nine court and we hated it,” she said. “Even Miss Devall, my gym teacher, hated it too. I guess they were afraid we couldn’t play like the men.”

Left to right-Wilbur (Will) Swanson, Viola Swanson Carlson and Roger L. Carlson took this picture in the 1940s, when they met unexpectedly on a San Francisco Street. Submitted photo

“I was a tomboy,” explained the senior citizen.

A tomboy: maybe. Serious athlete: definitely. The 94-year-old admits she “liked to play with the boys.” This may have helped contribute to her having been an athlete, but probably not.

She played hopscotch as a child, but said, “I didn’t have time (to play). If my brother and friends needed a batter or catcher, I was there. My brother and I were very close.”

A tennis coach encouraged her to play when she noticed Carlson’s interest in the games played on a tennis court near her home. This led to a lifetime love of the sport.

“I started tennis at the age of six when Miss Devall bought me a quarter tennis racquet. I played tennis my whole life, all over New York and part of Pennsylvania. I have oodles of trophies stored at my daughter’s.”

Viola Carlson holds her tennis racquet and one of many trophies she acquired over a lifetime of athletic involvement. Submitted photo

“She was the City of Jamestown tennis champ,” says Carlson’s daughter, Cynthia Rubin. “She played until she was 72-years-old and was a bowling champ until a few years ago. She was always an athlete.”

A shoulder injury forced her to give up bowling when she was in her 80s.

“I played (tennis) until I could no longer run after the balls,” explained Carlson. “I ice skated in winter, did all of the sports I possibly could and got a lot of awards.”

She became engaged to Roger L. Carlson when she was a sophomore in high school. He was ship’s cook, first class in the United States Navy on a submarine named USS Bang.

“He saw a lot of combat and had a lot of stories but wouldn’t tell half of them,” said Carlson. “At least he came back whole.”

Her first summer after graduating from high school in 1943 was spent working at Chautauqua County Health Camp in Cassadaga, where she was in charge of 14 boys. From there she went to work at Art Metal where she spent two years as the head inspector, inspecting rivets on airplane wings. The plant produced wings, tails and motor covers for the planes used in World War II.

“We got the big E for being efficient,” she proudly stated.

After her marriage on Sept. 22, 1945, she went to California in an attempt to find a place to live, in order to join her sailor. One day, during her visit to the Golden Gate City on an outing with her new husband, she spotted her brother, Wilbur, who was also serving in the United States Navy, on a sidewalk on the other side of the street.

“My husband told me it wasn’t Will, but I knew it was.”

The three had their picture taken to document their unexpected meeting.

After being unsuccessful in finding affordable housing and after the couple’s funds were depleted, Carlson returned to Jamestown to her parents’ home. They converted the second floor of the Palmer Street home into an apartment for the newlyweds and this is where they stayed until after their two children were born.

Carlson’s husband worked at Jamestown Metal Products for 35 years before retiring. The couple purchased a home on South Maple Street in Ashville, where they raised their son and daughter and where Carlson lived for 71 years. She worked at Jamesway for many years where she was in charge of the toy and sporting goods departments.

The Carlson Family participated in many fun and family-oriented activities. Carlson’s husband played drums in Vikings Drum Corps.

“We went to every local parade and fair in the summer and every summer we lived in a tent for three months at the Vikings on Lake Chautauqua,” said Rubin. “My dad went to work from there. We cooked on propane and had no formal bathroom. We loved it!”

Carlson lost her husband in 2005 and their son, Gary in 2002. Her dear brother, Will, is gone, too. Losing her husband did not deter her from staying in the large family house in Ashville until she was 90 years old, all the while doing repairs and mowing six acres of lawn.

“When I asked her what she wanted for her 80th birthday, she said ‘a chainsaw,'” Rubin stated.

“I’m an old lady but I don’t feel old. Sometimes I do things I shouldn’t,” said Carlson.

She has since moved to Hultquist Place, an independent living home located on Falconer Street. Rubin speaks of her mother’s encouragement to “do more.” This encouragement motivated her to go places she may not have gone, in travel, as well as in her life’s experiences.


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