The story of Elmhurst’s 100 years is made up of the stories of its members – their experiences and how the community around them grew and changed. In digging through our archives, we discovered the story of Lois Dowling (Elmhurst member since 1969) and embarked on a delicious travel through time.
In 1973, Ruralite published a story, “Having Her Cake and Eating it too: Cooking Contest Winner Lois Dowling”. We asked to meet with Lois, hear about her adventures and how her life has changed since 1973.
She graciously invited us to her home a week after her 92nd birthday – the same one she has owned and cooked in since the 1960s. The rooms were spotless, the yard perfectly manicured, and her table elegantly arranged featuring her award-winning Viennese Raspberry Torte Elegance.
Lois grew up in Grand Forks, North Dakota and attended the University of North Dakota. One assignment during her studies was to write a thesis on any state. She chose Alaska (not yet a state) and decided to visit for firsthand experience to use in her writing. For two summers, she and her girlfriends lived and worked in Alaska eventually meeting and marrying their husbands.
Lois has fond memories of North Dakota food. She insists flour from North Dakota mills (specifically Dakota Maid premium bread flour) is the best for all your bread baking needs. She misses fresh pumpernickel bread, rye buns rolled in oats, and mocha cakes (which are “just white cakes with lots of frosting”). Her favorite food network star is Molly Yeh of Girl Meets Farm (Molly lives on a farm on the North Dakota-Minnesota border).
After meeting and marrying her husband who was serving in the Air Force, Lois’s adventures continued. The Dowlings moved from Alaska to Mitchell Airforce Base in New York. From there, they moved to France and lived in France for 2-1/2 years when Charles de Gaulle was in power after World War II. In a dispute with the United States and to keep France independent of US and Great Britain influence, de Gaulle ordered American military personnel out of the country. Lois says she felt sorry for the French people because so many of them were employed by the American military after the war.
From France, the Dowlings moved to Germany (Spangdahlem Air Base) and lived there four years before returning to Duluth, Minnesota. From Duluth, they were transferred to McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma.
For a short time, Lois taught in a country one-room schoolhouse. At that time, one could certify to be a teacher by successfully passing a certification test. She described this as the hardest job she ever had with 13 students in grades 1-8.
During this time, part of Lois’s job as a schoolteacher was to convince farmers to put up poles and lines to transmit electricity in rural areas in response to the Rural Electrification Act of 1936. She had little success because, independent and hearty, farmers told her they “never had it, had done without it, and don’t need it now”.
While Lois raised her own children (3 girls and 1 boy), she enjoyed gardening, cooking and entering cooking contests. Often grocery stores or restaurants sponsored cooking contests and advertised them on flyers or in magazines. She entered these contests with recipes she developed in her Tacoma kitchen. Her version of a Boston Cream Pie was her first big win. During our visit, she shared three scrapbooks featuring letters from hundreds of contests she entered and won over the years. Whenever a contestant won a contest, that recipe became the property of the sponsor.
Lois travelled across the country to compete (one competition was on the grounds of the governor’s mansion in Arkansas when Bill Clinton was governor), and the prizes for winning were often trips. She visited 50 countries including China, Norway, Morocco, South Africa, Kenya, New Zealand, Thailand and Italy. While competing was fun, she enjoyed meeting her fellow contestants most of all.
Of her travels, she remembers “nearly starving to death” in China because her American tastes were not adapted to authentic Chinese cuisine. Italy is her dream destination, but she experienced a “freak snowstorm” on her way to Venice and was not able to accomplish her goal of “eating my way through Italy”. Her favorite dinner is lasagna at Marzano’s right here at home. In addition to trips, Lois won other prizes, including two Kawasaki motorcycles (her son’s favorite prize).
As the years passed, Lois taught evening cooking classes for Pierce College and Tacoma Community College for 19 years. She loved this work as it gave her opportunity to meet and work with so many people. She said of her students, “They talked, and I talked. They learned, and I learned”.
Lois researched and learned to prepare cuisine from all parts of the world and has adapted her recipes for discerning palates. The most popular class with her students was Chinese cooking. She has gluten free recipes. Those who are lactose intolerant can enjoy her food, as can those who enjoy vegan and vegetarian diets.
While managing this cooking, teaching and traveling schedule, Lois pursued her other passion, landscaping and gardening. She was a docent volunteer at Lakewold Gardens for 19 years and participated in many community events. Through this work, she learned how to care for plants and how to correct common gardening mistakes so plants will thrive and produce flowers, fruits and vegetables.
Visiting with Lois and hearing about her life’s adventures was fun, made us hungry and inspired to cook and explore. Researching places she visited and events she experienced provided a glimpse into the past and made history come alive. The Viennese Raspberry Tarte with good, hot coffee was as delicious as it looked. In talking and listening to Lois, it is easy to see why her cooking classes were popular. She has a ready laugh and appreciates a simple, charming elegance we hope hasn’t entirely disappeared from our modern world.
For more pictures, more details of Lois’ story, and recipes, please visit Emhurst Mutual Power & Light.