Roscoe Pettengill did not count bowling as a hobby or favorite activity during the first 97 years of his life. In fact, he does not recall ever having been bowling until after he became a resident at Rock Rapids Health Centre nearly three years ago. Last Thursday, March 8, Jigger (as he’s known to most) celebrated his 100th birthday with cake and bowling.
“All I gotta do is throw the ball real hard at the pins,” he said. “Couple of times I was able to knock them all down on the first try.” Health Centre activities’ director, Jennifer Barrette, organized the afternoon activity especially for Pettengill’s birthday. “She sets up the pins out in the front room in a pattern and I roll the ball from 10 feet away. I swing my arm beside my wheelchair, head for the head pin and give the ball a good throw,” Jigger explained.
Pettengill was born the oldest of four children and raised just north of Rock Rapids where he eventually ran a ready-mix plant with his dad and then his son, Peter. As a youngster, he spent his days mowing yards and doing odds and ends. “I even built a boat with an outboard motor on it,” he said. At the time, Moon Creek came right up to the property. “There was a barn there and I had a dock out there. I had it real nice. I could go up river pert near a mile with that boat,” said Jigger. “It was great for boating. You could even ski behind the boat!”
In high school, Jigger participated in football. “We didn’t do very good,” he said. “I only weighed about 130 pounds but we were short players so they had to use a guy like me,” he explained. In the classroom, Jigger learned he wasn’t fond of the usual core classes but enjoyed learning about anything mechanical-related. Following high school, he attended Dunwoody, an institution in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to learn how to draw plans for houses. After one year, he returned to Rock Rapids and used the trade in the local lumberyard for a year or so before joining the U.S. Army.
Jigger served his country nearly five and a half years during World War II, earning a purple heart. He recalled several memories from many of the places he was stationed. “I was in Louisiana where it was awful hot. Some of the guys were afraid of snakes and slept on top of the ambulance,” he remembered. “What we were told to do, and I did it, was to put a hairy rope around my pup tent because a snake wouldn’t crawl over it. I guess it worked because I never saw a snake.” Jigger also served in Europe including Ireland, London, North Africa, Italy and Rome. “I never had to use a gun and that suited me just fine,” he said. “I wasn’t mad at any German and I sure didn’t want to shoot any.”
Back home, Jigger married his wife, Nadene, in 1946 and worked in the block factory making cement block and septic tanks and continued to hone his mechanical skills. “I made my own block machine that I copied from one my dad had,” he explained. “He didn’t have a welder when he built the first one but I did so it was a lot easier. That machine made two blocks a minute,” he said. The product was a good seller, according to Jigger, until ready-mix came in. “Ready-mix makes a better basement wall than block so we bought the ready-mix plant and built it over to load big trucks,” he said. “I kind of enjoyed that. All the welding I did was always outside so it was a lot easier to breath. I hated welding inside.”
Jigger also built a washing plant to enhance the offerings of Pettengill Sand and Gravel. Nadene, who had served in the Navy as a first lieutenant, “ran the show,” according to Jigger. “She had a degree in business administration so she did all the bookkeeping.” The couple also adopted two children, Peter and Leslie.
After decades of running the ready-mix plant, Jigger turned the operation over to his son. At one point, the decision was made for Peter to sell out and just run the gravel pit and washing plant and Jigger started a new career of sorts. “I had learned to fly on the GI Bill and the airport wanted someone to fly for an air taxi service. The engineers wanted that and I had quite a lot of flying time so they wanted me to do full-time flying,” he explained. Jigger took engineers to Des Moines and Omaha, sit and wait for them to wrap up their business, and bring them back. “I got to see a lot of country,” he said. He continued to fly for a few years, eventually being asked to buy the airplane in order to continue the service. “My wife says, ‘why aren’t we buying the airplane?’ I said no because I had a feeling a little bit that if you keep on flying the time is coming that something’s going to happen. I said this was my chance to get out and live life,” said Jigger. “I kind of miss it but I kind of had in my mind my time was coming and I wanted to quit.”
Over the years, Jigger and Nadene traveled to Hawaii 19 times during the winter months. “We had a home there with a tide pool next to it and a nice patio right off the pool. The water was 80 degrees in the wintertime,” said Jigger. The couple came to know all three Hawaiian islands well so when visitors from Rock Rapids came to visit, Jigger and Nadine served as tour guides.
Always fond of the scenery around him — from enjoying the river as a young boy to the landscapes in Europe and the view from the airplane to the ocean in Hawaii — Jigger and Nadine purchased a plot of land on the banks of the Rock River, acquired the former library building and moved it to the lot. “It was quite a moving job but we weren’t even here when they moved it. We were in Hawaii,” recalled Jigger.
The home provided Jigger many opportunities to work with his hands, something he always enjoyed. “I was always told to ‘do what you like.’ You’ll do much better in life doing what you like; work at that the hardest,” he said. That’s also the advice he would tell any young person today. “Do the things you’re good at.”
While he says he never imagined he would live to be 100 years old, Jigger said, “I had a good life.”
As for the nickname, Jigger, it’s a name straight from the funny pages of the paper. “Years ago there was a cartoon, Maggie and Jiggs, and my mother made me a pair of shorts that looked like the ones Jiggs wore,” he explained. “So my dad started calling me Jiggs and that became Jigger.”