Laura Sloney to mark 100th birthday

Sloney, as pictured in Ishpeming High School’s 1936 yearbook, the year she graduated. Sloney's yearbook quote was “A loving heart is the truest wisdom.” (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

MARQUETTE — Local resident Laura Joanne nee Mattila Niemi Sloney will celebrate her 100th birthday Tuesday in the company of family members who are travelling from all over the nation to celebrate the occasion.

In celebration of Laura’s remarkable life and 100th birthday, Laura’s daughter has been chronicled in a writing by her daughter, Pamela Tull.

According to Tull, Laura was born April 24, 1918 in Republic, Michigan, the sixth child of two Finnish parents, William “Viljo” Mattila and Maria Emilia nee HumalaMaki Mattila. She was baptized Laura Johanna Mattila in Humboldt Township.

Laura’s mother was ill at the time of Laura’s birth and remained bedridden after Laura’s birth. Sadly, when Laura was just 8 months old, her mother passed away.

After Laura’s father, an iron-ore miner and farmer, was widowed, he had five young children to care for, in addition to Laura, who required daily medical attention due to complications that occurred during her birth.

The community rallied around the family to provide help, as Laura’s father was unable to care for his six young children while working in the mines and on the farm.

Many families offered to take Laura in and care for her — a cousin of Laura’s mother, Hulda nee Harju Niemi, and her husband, Oscar Niemi, willingly took Laura in and became her foster family.

Laura grew up in Ishpeming with the Niemis and their two children, Edna and William. She attended Ishpeming High School in the 1930s and was a student librarian, as well as a member of the Girls Literary Society, the Commercial Club and the Service Corps during her time in school.

Laura graduated from Ishpeming High School in 1936, entering the workforce and applying for several federal and state jobs — she accepted a position with the Michigan State Department of Employment at the Battle Creek Unemployment Compensation office and moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, from Ishpeming.

In April 1940, when she was 22, Laura met Willard Sloney — an “avowed bachelor” who asked her to marry him a month later. Laura accepted his proposal, saying “Yes, I love you.”

The couple was married on New Year’s Day 1941 in Bryan, Ohio. Friends had asked the couple to travel to Ohio to stand as witnesses for their marriage — but by happenstance, Willard and Laura also married in Bryan and were wed by the same justice of the peace that married their friends.

After their marriage, Willard was drafted into U.S. Army and Laura later joined him in Fort Benning, Georgia. Nearly two years after their marriage, their first son, Douglas, was born in January 1943.

However, Willard was soon given orders to go overseas when the U.S. entered World War II. At the time, Douglas was just months old — Laura drove all the way back to her foster mother’s home in Ishpeming from Leesville, Louisiana with her infant son.

During this time, Laura was warmly welcomed by her father, William Matilla, and other family members at the Mattila family farm during her frequent visits.

After the war ended, Willard returned to the U.S. and began work at Associated Truck Lines in Battle Creek. The family settled into a new home in Battle Creek and Laura and Willard had three more children: Pamela, Willard Jr. and Judith.

Laura returned to work after their fourth child went to school and once the children were grown, Laura and Willard moved to Ontario, California in 1966. Laura continued working for the government until she retired in 1978, at 60 years old.

“She dedicated her adult life to parenting and employment in public service,” writes Tull.

Willard and Laura were married for over 50 years, until Willard’s passing in 1991. Throughout their 50 years of marriage, Willard and Laura were active in many recreational pursuits. The couple were described as “avid dancers,” and “distinctive shuffleboard and billiards competitors” by Tull.

Laura won trophies in these pursuits and also loved playing competitive board games and tending her rose garden.

In 2012, Laura returned to the Upper Peninsula to live with her youngest daughter and her husband, near Ishpeming, where she had grown up.

Laura survives her parents and siblings, as well as her foster parents are siblings. Three of Laura’s half-siblings, Elias, Martha and Fredrick are still living. Laura has four children, six grandchildren, more than 11 great-grandchildren and several great-great grandchildren.

“Laura is a pleasant elder and lives a quiet life. She has said she never thought she would live this many years and smiles softly as her Lake-Michigan-blue-eyes sparkle,” Tull wrote.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.