Maintaining a positive attitude is a key element for longevity, says a former Sundre area resident and local icon who recently celebrated his centennial birthday.
Chester Mjolsness, who was born in Didsbury on Oct. 14, 1919 and raised west of Sundre, said one’s outlook on life plays an important part in staying healthy and leading a fulfilling life.
“Be positive! And never look back,” he said on Oct. 23 during an interview at the Sundre and District Museum, which is home to the World of Wildlife Exhibit that features a variety of trophies from his hunting days.
“Be honest in everything you do, that’s very important. And put yourself into it,” said Mjolsness, adding he otherwise didn’t have any secret dietary tips.
“Always look up rather than down,” he added.
Although he now resides on a ranch near Bottrel in Rocky View County, where a few dozen family members and close friends celebrated his birthday, Mjolsness said Sundre will always hold a special place in his heart.
“I was raised six miles west of Sundre,” he said, adding, “I lived here in Sundre all my life. This is where I got my start in business.”
Once a Sundre councillor from 1950-60, his roots in the area run deep.
“Sundre was my home address for many years,” he said.
Essentially a living history book, Mjolsness remembers a not-so-distant time when Sundre was home to a humble general store and a local creamery that people would come to with their own containers to sample some butter before loading up.
“You would scoop a little bit and taste it, make sure it wasn’t sour,” he said.
Back then, he recalled, there were fewer vehicles as well, and people would often ride into town on their horses, sometimes even stopping for a lunch or picnic along Bearberry Creek.
As a child, Mjolsness discovered a passion for trapping and hunting, starting at about 12 years old snaring gophers and claiming bounties for each tail.
“I trapped lots of gophers,” he said.
One winter, Mjolsness caught 13 coyotes, whose skins at the time would bring in about $100.
“In those days, that was big money,” he said, adding his interest eventually evolved into hunting larger game such as moose. Over the years following his retirement in 1980, he also went on numerous excursions to places including but not limited to Africa, Australia and Russia, and his growing number of taxidermy trophies began to overwhelm available space at home.
So working alongside the Sundre and District Museum, Mjolsness donated his collection to help establish the World of Wildlife Exhibit, and said he relished the day it opened to the public and is glad that people can see that legacy.
But while hunting was his hobby, business, family and faith were largely the centre of his life. On July 27, 1946, he married his now late wife Beryl Chapman, and the newlywed couple honeymooned in Banff. They had four children, Barry, Brian, Lorie and Cindy, who passed away a few years ago.
“He is amazing and I am very grateful he is my dad,” said Barry, who in 1980 with his brother Brian took over operations of the Spray Lake Sawmills, which Mjolsness and his brother Lloyd had built from the ground up.
Before he retired, Mjolsness witnessed first-hand over the span of half a century the industry evolve from a time when horses and handsaws got the job done to a mechanical process in which trees were hardly touched by hand.
“He has been a great mentor and an incredibly positive influence in my life. He has always set a great example by the way he lives his life. I love him dearly and wish him many more years of good health and happiness.”
Airdrie-Cochrane MLA Pete Guthrie gave an address in the legislature recognizing Mjolsness’s remarkable milestone and said the mill celebrated its 75th anniversary last year.
“At a young age, he lost his father and began cutting wood to help his mother make ends meet,” said Guthrie.
“With determination and dedication to his dream, he laid the foundation for what became an industry leading a sustainable forest management operation which now employs about 400 people.”
The family, continued the MLA, was among many donors who in 2001 funded the construction of Spray Lake Sawmills Family Sports Centre in Cochrane.
“Chester’s positive impact reaches beyond our constituency,” he added, pointing to the introduction of Mjolsness Hall at Ambrose University, which is home to the post-secondary education institution’s library and academic offices.
“Chester’s philosophy is simple — live with integrity, keep your word, build relationships, give back and trust God,” said Guthrie.
Jason Nixon, the Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre MLA, called Mjosleness a treasure trove of stories who offers a unique perspective on Sundre’s past.
“I’ve known Chester for many years,” said Nixon, describing him as “unique.”
“The great thing about visiting with Chester, is he is kind of a larger-than-life character. He has so many stories and has led an incredible life.”
Before establishing Spray Lake Sawmills, Nixon said Mjolsness had also created plenty of opportunities in the community he called home growing up.
“He is a very generous man,” he said.
Knowing Mjolsness long before getting involved in politics, Nixon said, “He was very supportive of my family’s efforts with the Mustard Seed” and wanted to help people who faced poverty.
Nixon, whose father Pat founded the street ministry in 1984, said two things come to mind when he thinks about Mjolsness. First is his selflessness.
“But, second, he’s an exciting guy,” he said.
“His life was a life of excitement in many ways. With Chester, it’s like being with a guy who’s been through many adventures, and you get to live those adventures because he’s so good at telling stories.”