Former East Sider reflects on a century of active living

Vernon “Vern” Ellman and Virginia were married Sept. 21, 1946. (submitted photos)

Ellman and Virginia, more recently, still dancing.

How does a person live to age 100? Ask Roseville resident Vernon “Vern” Ellman, who was born in 1919 and will be 100 on May 25. 

“I don’t have anything to do with it — it is entirely up to God,” he says. But he has always been an active, positive person, worked and played hard, enjoyed a family and married a good woman. “She has taken good care of me,” he says of his dedicated, loving wife of nearly 73 years, Virginia.

Ellman was born the eighth child in a family of nine siblings and grew up on the East Side of St. Paul. He attended Sibley grade school and graduated from Harding High School in 1937. He also studied business law for two years, taking night classes through the University of Minnesota.

“There were always lots of kids in the neighborhood to play ball,” he says. Ellman also played tennis, golf, went sliding and skiing on nearby hills, ice skated and played hockey. “I have a good memory of my youth,”

Growing up during the Depression, he, as most others, did not have much money. But an older brother worked at a sporting goods store and helped him get a job there. 

“I wrote fishing licenses on weekends so I could buy at cost, plus 10%,” Ellman says. He bought skies, golf clubs and skates from the store. “It was heaven-sent to get all the sporting equipment.”

Early in his career, Ellman was employed at the St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company. From 1939 to 1942 he played hockey on the company team in the commercial league on Saturday afternoons at the St. Paul Auditorium. 

On Sunday afternoons he skated with the St Paul outdoor league at local school playgrounds and Sunday nights in leagues at the Minneapolis Auditorium. The winter of 1941-42, his outdoor team won the state title.


Army times

On Dec. 7, 1941, Ellman went to a movie and afterwards heard the news on the radio about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. 

“I’m going to be in it,” he says he remembers thinking, immediately knowing he would be drafted. And very soon he was. “I had a low draft number and got a letter and went in March 4, 1942.”

His pay was $21 a month. “However,” he says, “$6.60 was taken out each month for insurance.”   

Ellman completed his Army basic training at Fort Lewis in Washington state, where he was assigned as a supply sergeant with an artillery unit. Because of the Japanese attack, guarding the West Coast was imperative.

Additional training before going overseas included a summer in California in the Mohave Dessert, where the young soldiers practiced maneuvers. Then, he and others were sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, where they were taught to swim. 

“I already knew how to swim but we learned how to make life jackets from our pants while in the middle of the river,” Ellman recalls

Then he got orders for Europe. Ellman crossed the U.S. and prepared to leave from Providence, Rhode Island. While there he enjoyed some free time in nearby Boston at the Buddy Club, similar to a United Service Organizations club, which catered to soldiers, and also enjoyed some free dinners in restaurants.

On Dec. 29, 1943, the young soldier embarked for England from Providence, arriving on Jan. 8, 1944. 

Based at Bournemouth, on the southern coast of England, Ellman says he knew right away when the invasion started. American planes started flying bombing missions on D-Day, June 6, 1944. 

Just a few days later, on June 10, Ellman was on an LST — landing ship tank — crossing the English Channel with equipment for A Battery, 980th Field Artillery Battalion. 

“We supported the 1st Infantry Division, 3rd Armored Division and 101st Airborne when the invasion started, then went to France, landing on Utah Beach,” he says.

Ellman remembers one close call, when he and another soldier drove to get mail and found themselves in German territory.


Into the post-war world

World War II ended, making the world safe for Ellman and many other soldiers to get on with their careers and family. He left Europe on Oct. 4, 1945, on the ship Queen Elizabeth, a trip that took five days. 

“Some of us soldiers were sleeping out on the deck in sleeping bags and saw the Statue of Liberty at 6 a.m. when we arrived back in the states,” Ellman says. 

The soldiers were very excited to be home. He was discharged from the Army with five campaigns, Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes and Central Europe, listed on his DD214, final Army discharge papers.

Happy to be home, the young man went ice skating at the Arena in Minneapolis and met Virginia. Ellman always loved sports; now he’d found someone who also enjoyed the outdoors and being active.

“The skating was run just like a dance,” Virginia says, remembering she was impressed with Ellman and how active he was, unlike some of her other beaus. Because Virginia skated and also enjoyed dancing, they settled on a “tradeoff,” she says — Virginia learned to golf and Ellman learned to dance. They still hit the dance floor together.

The couple married on Sept. 21, 1946. With the economy transitioning from war to peace time, they were able to get building supplies and constructed a new home on the East Side of St. Paul , moving into it August 1947. 

“The mortgage was $7,000,” Ellman remembers. 

The house was a two-bedroom, with an expansion upstairs that he was able to finish, as well as the basement, which he completed as a recreation area. There they lived for 40 years raising three children: Jim, Bob and Susan. Ellman worked at the Post Office and then at the office of motor vehicles, where he stayed until retirement in 1975 after 33 years of service.  

As a family they continued with sports activities like golfing, skiing, skating and dancing, soon adding a travel trailer for camping, and then a cabin on Balsam Lake in Wisconsin. 

The travel trailer took the family to many interesting places, including a six-week trip out west in 1962. They even belonged to a Minnesota camping group.

Long-blade ice skating was a passion Ellman and Virginia enjoyed until he was close to 80 years old. The family skied for many years at Trollhaugen in Dresser, Wisconsin. And Virginia and her husband played golf until he was 93, when he began having a problem with his legs.  

Says Ellman, who still keeps a trophy for the hole-in-one he hit, “I played from bench to bench and was not as good as I used to be.” 


Smile, and take care

Ellman and Virginia sold their house in 1987 and moved to a condo in Roseville. To fend off cold Minnesota weather, they spent 20 warm winters in Mesa, Arizona, participating in various snowbird activities like hiking, painting and dance. “We have always had a lot of dance friends,” says Virginia.

“At this point, I think I’ve done pretty good so far,” says Ellman. “I think we’ve had a pretty good life.”

The family includes three children, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Although he has very few regrets, Ellman does say, “I wish I had more education — after the war it would have been paid for. But I don’t think I’m missing anything.”

Ellman has seen many changes in the world during his lifetime and now has some concern about the attitude of young people. “Nobody is satisfied,” he says. “People need to respect each other and care for one another.”

Ellman and Virginia certainly cared for each other and both have a smile on their face. “Keep thinking positive, and keep active and smile,” says Virginia.

Adds Ellman, “What other choice do you have when you get this old?”


–Vonny Rohloff can be reached at

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