Through her pink-rimmed eye glasses, you could see Dorothy Peak's blue eyes spring to life during an interview last week at her home on North Sycamore Street in Creston.
Peak — who turns 100 years old today — sat in her rocker-reclining chair and tirelessly shared story after story about her life over the past century.
Those stories included the light-hearted “frozen underwear” struggles of the 1920s, importance of her education at Iowa State University and her immense love for teaching home economics in Iowa for more than 40 years.
There were even some stories that were off the record.
“Now, shh, that’s a secret. Don’t tell anyone that story,” Peak would say.
Peak’s life starts in the small town of Nevinville — 13 miles northwest of Creston. At 6 years old, she attended a one-room school in Nevinville heated by a potbelly stove. Her first teacher was Dorothy Williamson.
“She had a bell,” Peak recalled about Williamson. “She would ring the bell three times — turn, rise and pass. You did those on command when she wanted you to come up front. That’s the only time you were allowed up. Otherwise, you stayed in your seat. If you had to go the bathroom, you raised three fingers.”
A new consolidated school was later built in Nevinville where she attended second grade.
“That one had a water fountain,” Peak said, laughing.
Peak said this was a big upgrade from the one-room school that had no running water.
“(At the one-room school) we would get water from the neighbors,” Peak said, “and we would all drink out of the same cup. I don’t know if that would work today.”
Peak said many families struggled financially during the 1920s. She only had two pairs of clothes — school clothes and play clothes. Laundry was once a week, and she recalls sometimes during winter months her mother giving her frozen underwear off the clothesline to take inside.
“They were stiff and sometimes, depending on the weather, it took a while for them to thaw,” Peak said.
Peak graduated from Nevinville consolidated school in 1932. There were nine students in her graduating class. It took her a couple minutes, but Peak — using her fingers to count — remembered all their names.
“None of them are alive now,” Peak said. “I’m the only one left.”
In the 1930s, Peak said women weren’t supposed to go to college. They were to cook, clean and take care of the kids, but the times weren’t about to stop Peak who enrolled at Iowa State University shortly after high school graduation.
“I wanted to study medicine, but knew I wouldn’t have the chance because — at that time — nobody wanted a woman doctor,” Peak said. “So, I studied to be a teacher.”
Peak received a Bachelor of Science degree from Iowa State University in the mid-30s, with additional college credits from the University of Iowa, Iowa State Teachers College (now UNI) and Kansas University.
Her first teaching position after graduation was teaching in Nevinville whereby she was compensated $55 per month. She later taught in Bridgewater and Calmar (near Decorah) before accepting the home economics teaching position in the Creston School District in 1940.
“I think I was paid $110 per month in Creston,” Peak said.
Dorothy married Eddie Peak in 1941. She remained a teacher in the Creston School District for almost 40 years.
“I mostly taught about cooking, sewing, money management and child care,” Peak said.
Peak said, in those 40 years of teaching, she only removed one student from her classroom. Who was it?
“I’m not telling,” Peak said, “but he was on drugs and I’d dealt with his disturbances for four days. I told him to get his books and leave my classroom, and I didn’t ever let him come back.”
In her teaching career, Peak is probably most remembered for instituting a new course of study into the CHS curriculum called “Bachelor Living.” There were doubters.
Superintendent Gene Hertz was concerned that boys would not be interested in the subject matter, and it would become too much of a discipline problem.
“(Gene) thought it was the dumbest thing he’d ever heard,” Peak recalls. “I told him to just let me have one year.”
Twenty-two boys enrolled in the first class of “Bachelor Living.” The second year another section of the class was added. Crestonian Jeff Mostek was a student in Peak’s Bachelor Living class.
“We weren’t all angels,” Mostek said, “but all the boys respected Mrs. Peak and she had control over the class. We learned a lot of stuff that’s not taught in school anymore like how to run a checkbook, cooking, sewing and other practical life skills.”
Peak retired at CHS in the late ‘70s.
After retirement, Peak was one of the first people involved in organizing Green Valley Hospice, and she continued to help with fundraisers and telephone calls over the years. She was past president of the Catholic Council of Women.
She was inducted into the Creston High School Hall of Fame in 2006.
Peak still lives at home with the 24-hour assistance of home nurses and family. She receives several visits each week from friends and kin. Each Tuesday she meets with Dennis Nelson of Creston who gives her communion from Holy Spirit Catholic Church.
Peak reads anywhere from two to three large-print books per week.
“I read anything that isn’t dirty,” Peak said. “There are too many authors with dirty minds that use dirty words. They can’t think of any other words to use?”
She also enjoys television programs like Lawrence Welk, 60 Minutes, Antiques Roadshow and MASH reruns.
So far, Peak has already received 54 birthday cards from friends, family and former students. Cards can still be sent to Peak at 1003 N. Sycamore St., Creston, IA, 50801.
Saturday, an open house birthday celebration is slated for her from 1 to 3 p.m. at her home on North Sycamore Street. Peak has two cousins — ages 96 and 92 — who will try and make the trip from Iowa City to Creston.
“I’ve had a pretty good life,” Peak said. “I don’t know how much longer it will last, but my advice to everyone is don’t waste your time by monkeying around and causing disturbances. Spend your time being the best at whatever you choose to do.”
(CNA sports writer Larry Peterson contributed to this story)