Edina resident Palmer Rockswold was born into a different world: one without television or refrigerators, where four cents could buy you a loaf of bread or pound of sugar, and the life expectancy for men hovered around 55 years. Born in April 1916, 102-years-young Palmer is well on his way to doubling that erstwhile average.
Palmer attributes his longevity to a variety of factors, including good genes and a decades-long healthy lifestyle. He also credits a positive work ethic, instilled at a very young age. His father died when he was just six months old, and his mother passed away before his 10th birthday.
Consequently, throughout his early teenage years, Palmer worked tirelessly on a dairy farm outside Litchville, North Dakota, to cover his room and board. Chores began at 5 a.m. each morning and – after a “break” to attend high school – picked up again at 5 p.m. A talented musician, Palmer also drew a respectable side income on weekends playing accordion for barn dances and other area events (sometimes netting as much as $2 a night).
“In order to get ahead, there’s no getting around working hard,” he said.
After graduating from high school, Palmer studied at North Dakota’s Valley City Teacher’s College to become a rural educator himself.
While cutting his teeth as a teacher and continuing this post-secondary education in Valley City, Palmer met and married his wife Myrna. The pair moved to northwestern Minnesota soon thereafter. Palmer taught high school history and social studies – and also employed his musical chops conducting student marching bands.
In 1950, Palmer completed a master’s degree in administration from the University of North Dakota - Grand Forks. This opened the door to a long career as a school superintendent in Gonvick, Henning and Madison, Minnesota.
The Rockswolds had four sons, two of whom followed in their father’s footsteps and became teachers. Sadly, Myrna passed away from cancer in 1980.
Palmer eventually relocated to the Twin Cities with second wife Betty, whom he wed in 1984. In 2007 – already a full three decades into Palmer’s retirement – the Rockswolds moved from Eagan into Brookdale Senior Living in Edina, adjacent to Edinborough Park.
Palmer quickly gained a deserved reputation as a social and community-minded resident. “I was on the board of the Residents’ Association at Brookdale from 2008 to 2012, including time as president from 2011 to 2012,” he noted. This body is responsible for voicing resident concerns to Brookdale management, as well as more fun assignments like collecting funds for staff Christmas presents.
Noticing that Brookdale offered a variety of women’s groups but not one men’s group, he established one of his own. “We simply talked about things we were interested in,” including topics as wide-ranging as economics, travel and genealogy. He also led a weekly discussion group that analyzed current events.
He remains a staple at Bible studies and other weekly social functions.
Earlier this year, in recognition of his long, fruitful life and the many lives he has touched, Mayor Jim Hovland issued a proclamation declaring April 30, 2018 – Palmer’s 102nd birthday – “Palmer Rockswold Day” in the City of Edina.