Ace Walden’s arrival in Coeur d’Alene was not altogether auspicious. He and his family rode into town on a thoroughly modern electric train. But not in a passenger car. In a boxcar!
Nearly a century later, in his 100th year, Ace could still remember the date: June 12, 1911. And he could remember something else: The family was dead broke. But not broken. His father quickly got a job working at a “one-man mill”, and eventually ran several businesses in the old Idaho Hotel. His mother made and sold candy. Ace would become a vice president of Idaho First National Bank, taking charge of all the bank’s offices in the Idaho Panhandle.
The Waldens were living in California when Ace was born on May 17, 1907, four years before the family’s unceremonious arrival in Coeur d’Alene on the Inland Empire Electric Line. He was the second of four children born to mother, Emma Walton Walden, and father, Percy Bertrum Walden. His siblings included brother Percy Jr., who was 14 months older, sister Erma, five months younger than Ace, and brother Mayo, who was seven years younger than Ace. The family rented a house at 1324 3rd St. in Coeur d’Alene after their arrival. Ace remembers it well because the water pump was located right in the center of the kitchen floor.
Ace entered Miss Pennington’s first-grade class at the old Bryan School on Harrison Avenue in 1913. “One of my classmates,” he remembered long afterward, “was a cute little Swedish girl with bright blue eyes and corn-colored hair.” Her name was Ellen Marie Okerstrom. She would become Ellen Marie Walden.
About the time he started school, at age 6, Ace and his older brother sold newspapers on the streets of downtown Coeur d’Alene. Ace later got his own newspaper route and delivered papers until he entered high school.
At age 14 he would hop on his bicycle and head for the golf course at Hayden Lake, arriving about 7 a.m., to look for work as a caddy. Among his customers were two men identified as members of the Smith Brothers cough-drop family. They not only paid him $2 a day but picked up his lunch tab.
Ace entered Coeur d’Alene High School determined to be at athlete but never earned a letter. In the end he had to settle for a diploma, graduating with the class of 1925.
He later landed a job with the state of Idaho–after the application of a little political grease. “The first highway-oiling crew north of Boise was to be established here,” he said, “and I was told I’d be hired if I went to the engineer and said I was a Republican.”
It worked, and so did Ace–12 hours a day, every day–from early June to late September. At least it worked until 1930, when Idaho voted Democratic and it occurred to Ace that he should begin exploring other opportunities.
He studied accounting by correspondence for three years and completed two years at the University of Idaho, then had to give up college when his father became an invalid.
“In 1930,” he said, “we were in the middle of the Great Depression. I’d heard there was to be an opening at the bottom of the staff at the American Trust Company. I applied and was told the manager had 28 applications but would consider mine if I furnished a handwritten 300-word essay by the next day, telling him why I wanted the job.”
Ace got the job, and it was definitely “at the bottom of the staff.” They made him a messenger, part-time janitor and understudy bookkeeper. He worked 11 hours a day Monday through Friday and eight hours on Saturday. Salary: $50 a month.
It was the start of a career that lasted nearly 42 years. American Trust (later acquired by Idaho First National Bank) sent Ace to Kellogg for five years, then to Nampa for four years. At his next stop, Sandpoint, he became branch manager and stayed eight years before returning to Coeur d’Alene.
In 1932 Ace became a charter member of the Hayden Lake Country Club. Three years later, the athletic success that had eluded him at Coeur d’Alene High was realized on the golf course. At least for a day. It was the day he shot a hole in one. Up to then he had been Amidee Walden. Now, and forever after, he would be Ace Walden.
He liked the nickname but never considered the hole in one his luckiest stroke. The luckiest, he said, came on July 19, 1936. On that day–23 years after they met in Miss Pennington’s Class at Bryan Elementary–Ace married Ellen Marie Okerstrom. “I’ve had many lucky breaks in my lifetime,” he said, “but the best thing that happened to me was when Ellen became my wife.
While Ace and Ellen lived in Sandpoint, she began working with the Girl Scouts organization–for which she would become a statewide fund-raising leader years later. After she and Ace returned to Coeur d’Alene, she formed the Cancer and Community Charities group and was president of the organization many years. “She was a human dynamo at doing things for other people,” Ace said.
Ace and Ellen bought a home at 604 South 13th Street in Coeur d’Alene and lived there 27 years. In 1984 they moved to Lake Tower Apartments, where Ace remained after Ellen’s death in 1991. They had no children.
”We had 55 years, two months and six days together,” Ace said, “and every day of that time I knew that I had been blessed.”
At this writing, Ace is on the threshold of his 100th birthday. He has outlived his wife and all of his siblings. “No one could be more surprised than me that I’ve lasted this long….I’ve been very lucky indeed.”