City girl in the country

By Linda Andersen
“I’m not leaving Hallock,” stated Eileen Totleben, who reported that she is 82 years old.
She’s a bit of an exception at the Kittson Memorial Healthcare Center Nursing Home where she has resided for several months as the result of a fall. While one guesses that the majority of residents there have lived much of their lives in the area, she hails from Chicago. Though she was eager to be off to the next activity at the home – playing games with other residents – she consented to share a bit about her life.
“We lived on the southeast side of Chicago forever,” she stated. “My dad was a baker…and he owned a grocery store.”
“We always had music in our family,” she said, explaining that her father played the concertina and she had two sisters.
Growing up, she attended St. Francis de Sales Catholic School and took dance classes. Seems some of her favorite life memories revolve around dancing. “I wanted to excel,” she said and explained that she took dance classes at the Burt and Mary Malin Studio located at 79th and Stony Island Avenue in Chicago. She said she mastered slow dances, the mambo, merengue, and cha-cha, while admitting she never perfected the pasodoble. She later taught beginning students at the studio.
She said she worked at her father’s business until she “fell in love” and got married at the age of 26. Rennie Totleben, who became her husband of 55 years, came as a customer to the business and found Eileen amid the “fresh bakery goods and fresh ground beef.”
She said Rennie did a lot of things in life including working for Illinois Bell Telephone Company and as director of engineering at Marriott Hotels. He was a full-blooded Italian who married her, a full-blooded Polish girl.
She was eager to talk about dancing once more. Though she said Rennie didn’t dance, she managed to involve him in the art. One New Year’s Eve they even won a dance contest at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas. “I wore gold pants,” she remembered.
How did Eileen come to live in Hallock? “Michael moved here first,” she responded and explained that her son learned of a hotel for sale in the community and bought it. “Michael brought us all out here,” she added as she explained that son, Patrick, also moved to Hallock, son, Bobby, to Fargo, and she and Rennie to Hallock. Sadly, Rennie passed away in December of 2011.
Though she has come to appreciate Hallock, she admitted to initially saying, “I’m not going to a small town.”
What does she like about living here? “The people – the way we’re treated…I go to everything. I’m happy in the nursing home.”
And, then she spoke of dancing again. Though she knows her fall may have messed up her plans, she would love to dance and teach dancing again.
It’s good to have hopes and dreams at every age!

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