MARQUETTE - Katie Williams remembers immigrating to the United States like it was just yesterday.
"We came to the U.S. when I wasn't quite 7 years old. We came by huge ship, three floors on it," she said. "My poor mother, my poor dad. They couldn't talk English and they were nervous because I was a wild kid. People on the ship handed me pennies and nickels and apples. I would put the stuff in the pocket of my dress."
That was 97 years ago: Katherine Hildegarde "Katie" Raino Williams turns 104 on Nov. 27.
Katie Williams, right, talks with Trudy Gustafson, one of her favorite caregivers at Norlite Nursing Center in Marquette. Celebrating her 104th birthday later this month, Mrs. Williams said she’s lived a good life. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
The year the family was on the ship was 1914 as Katie and her family left Sweden to make a new life in America. Her mother, HIlda, was Finnish, while her father, Ernest, was Swedish.
"My parents were poor people from a poor country," she said. "I still remember when I showed my dad the things people gave me, he was worried I had begged for it. I told him that they were kind people and had just given it to me. I remember he told me not to beg for money, not ever."
Katie didn't beg but she did scoot around the ship some more, accepting goodies offered to her.
"Yes, I went right back and got more," she recalled. "I was a little bit too smart. I sneaked out and would go where the good stuff was."
Katie and her parents arrived in Marquette in 1914. Her father was a professional musician.
"He would manufacture accordions by hand," she said. "All that carving. My dad was very talented with the designs he would make. He was a professional accordion player and wanted me to be one, too."
Although she tried to learn, Katie said the accordion wasn't for her.
"I have a younger brother who is a very good accordion player, my brother Raymond," she said. Her other younger brothers were Oiva and Wesley, all three of whom were born in the U.S.
The early years for the family in Marquette were a bit difficult, Katie recalled.
"It was tough going, coming here as a foreigner," she said. "They weren't rich and had to count every penny."
While Ernest and Hilda were shy about the quality of their English-speaking, they wanted their daughter to assimilate to her surroundings.
"They knew I had to learn to talk English because I had to go to school," Katie said. "My mother wanted me to concentrate on that and insisted my dad speak English to me as much as he could. She said 'We have to stick to one language or the kid will be tongue-tied.'"
Katie's mother passed away when Katie was 14 and it wasn't long after the ambitious teen sought out a job. She began to waitress at the Bon Ton Cafe on Front Street.
"They advertised in the paper for a waitress and I went there and got hired," she said. "The wages were terrible back then but I was nervous the first time I got a paycheck. I was afraid someone was going to steal it so I wanted to hide it down my blouse."
Eventually, over her father's objections, Katie found a waitressing job in Chicago.
"I loved Chicago," she said. "My dad didn't want me to go but I had to learn to take care of myself."
However, on a trip with friends to Escanaba, she met Alfred Williams who hailed from Foster City in Dickinson County.
"I liked living in Chicago but then I fell in love with the most wonderful guy," she said. "He liked Marquette. I liked Chicago, but I didn't want to lose him, so we made our home in Marquette."
Alfred worked for the LS&I Railroad but was a talented carpenter.
"He started from the bottom up building our home in Trowbridge Park," she said. "He did all the building himself and then other people got the idea to build there. That's how Trowbridge Park got started."
Katie and the other young wives would walk to downtown Marquette to shop and to indulge in a favorite treat.
"We had to get a banana split at Donckers. We had to have that," she said. "Mr. Donckers was so good to us. He'd put a ton of chocolate sauce on our splits and we thought he was right from heaven.
"We had to walk back home and were so full, we could hardly do it."
Katie and Alfred had two children, Kathleen "Kay" Williams Angelone, who now lives in Arizona, and Alfred "Fred" Williams, who passed away a number of years ago. Katie has five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Now a resident of Norlite Nursing Center, Katie said she often sits and reflects on her life.
"We didn't always have a lot of things but we were happy," she said. "We got along just fine."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.