UP Centenarians’ Club recognizes: Brynhild Oas Mitchell

Brynhild Oas Mitchell, nicknamed Beo, lived to the age of 109. She was well known in Munising, where she lived most of her life. Above: Beo ice skating. Top right: Beo's 100th birthday. Bottom right: Beo being interviewed by phone for the National Library Service for the Library of Congress.

By ROSEMARY MICHELIN

Marquette Regional History Center

MARQUETTE — As part of the Marquette Regional History Center’s 100th birthday celebrations, we’re recognizing people who have also joined the “U.P. Centenarians’ Club” by reaching that milestone birthday. This remarkable lady, Brynhild Oas Mitchell lived to the age of 109. She went by the nickname Beo and was well known in Munising, where she lived most of her life. Born in Ishpeming in November 1903 to Norwegian immigrant parents Albert Oas and Signe Winsand, she was 100 percent Norwegian and traced her roots back to early skiing in the United States.

Beo’s father Albert came to America in 1889 from Trondheim, Norway after reading a newspaper article about a ski tournament in Ishpeming, Michigan in which his brother-in-law, Carl Tellefson had displayed his ski jumping skills. Albert and Carl went on to form the National Ski Association in 1904, a predecessor to the current U.S. Ski Association. The Oas family moved to Lansing for a short time but then settled in Munising in 1908, where Albert had secured a job at the tannery. Albert helped to organize the Munising Ski Club there and always tried to attend the ski jumping tournaments in Ishpeming, often times serving as a judge. Albert Oas was nicknamed the “grand old man of American skiing.” He surprised many by strapping on skis at age 79 and skiing down the hill at the 1946 ski tournament. He died in 1959 at the age of 92.

Brynhild grew up in Munising with her sister and 4 brothers. She attended the East Ward School in the Tannery location. The Munising Leather Company owned 30 homes there, where factory workers could reside. Beo recalled one 4th of July parade when she was a young girl. She was riding in a tall horse-drawn hemlock tree bark cart. “I was so short, I still have to laugh, because I didn’t see a thing!” As the procession passed, the kids in the cart would yell out rhymes used in school and neighborhood cheers:

“Strawberry shortcake, huckleberry pie. V-I-C-T-O-R-Y.

Are we in it? Well I guess. The Tannery, the Tannery, we’re the best!’

When Beo was in the 8th grade, the family moved from the tannery location to a home on Chocolay Street where she would live for the next 90 years. The Oas family was very active and enjoyed outdoor adventures like camping, hiking and skiing but Beo also liked to fish, bobsled and skate. As a child, one of her first memories was sitting on her father’s lap to watch Halley’s Comet in 1910. Beo graduated from high school in 1922. The ceremony was held on the Delft Theater stage because the high school had burned down the previous December.

When she was 19, Beo embarked on an adventure with 2 friends, Grace and Arline. The three set out hitch hiking to Yellowstone National Park. “Everybody was ga-ga about Yellowstone in those days”, she said. Beo was surprised that her parents gave her permission to go on this trip. But they all felt that people were good in those days and they wouldn’t be in any danger. The girls had knapsacks, a tent and cooking gear. They stopped in Minneapolis to visit an aunt and uncle of Grace’s. There they were convinced to give up hitch hiking and use an automobile. Arline had some money and purchased an old Ford Model T. After investing in some new tires, it ran fine, all the way to Yellowstone and back. Many of the roads were 2 track dirt trails with mud holes. They got stuck more than once! The girls were able give up tenting and sleep in the car. The trip was a great success! “Since then, everything’s been an adventure in my life,” Beo exclaimed.

She went to Northern State Normal School and in 1924 was hired as librarian at the Munising Public Library, a position she held until 1942. She had married Edmond Mitchell in 1941 and he moved into the Oas family home. Beo and Edmond had one daughter Beverly. The Mitchells supported and nursed Beo’s parents until their deaths. Beo was active with girl scouts, Campfire Girls, and the Munising Hospital auxiliary. She was also a charter member of the Alger County Historical Society and loved to tell members stories about the history of Munising. Beo was a member of the First Presbyterian Church where she was involved with Sunday school, choir and bible study. She was a faithful woman and took one day at a time.

In 2003, when Beo turned 100, friends were amazed but as she said, “But I am not… I live from day to day and have hardly been ill. I’ve had a very happy life!” She was still walking downtown nearly every day using traction devices on her boots when the sidewalks were icy.

Brynhild died in January 2013 at the age of 109. What was Beo’s secret to living to be 109 years old? While her genetics must have played a part, her positive attitude and sense of adventure certainly helped. While Brynhild saw many changes in Munising over the years, she embraced the future while still holding on to past memories. She stated, “To me, it’s always Munising. I love Munising!”