You probably remember Helen of Troy from Ancient Greek mythology, but maybe you haven’t yet heard of our modern day Darlene of Troy. Darlene has been gaining fame for the last 40 years in the little village of Troy, Minn.
When Darlene turned 40 in 1980, Bob Wooldridge, a neighbor, had offered to paint Darlene and Harold McGuire’s barn roof. Wooldridge had a job sandblasting and painting water towers; he offered to paint the barn roof with some leftover paint he had. Wooldridge painted the roof one day when the McGuires were gone. When Harold and Darlene came home, it was dark and they didn’t see the freshly painted barn roof. The next morning, they saw what had been painted on their roof in huge letters, “Happy Birthday, Darlene, 40!”
Harold said he kept quiet, not knowing how Darlene would react. The following spring Bob Wooldridge came over and painted the whole roof. Darlene actually was a little disappointed to see her message gone; she’d been having fun with it! Luckily for her, it appeared again after four or five years went by; the single coat of paint faded and once again, people passing by could read the message which had gotten a double coat of paint.
As Darlene’s 50th birthday approached, Bob Wooldridge called from his home in Florida and told the McGuires that they needed to update the roof with Darlene’s age. Soon the barn declared, “Darlene is 50!” Time went by and 10 years later the message was changed again from 50 to 60.
When Darlene was turning 70, Harold himself once again painted the updated, “Darlene is 70!” on the barn roof. It took Harold two weeks to paint the roof that time. They had had high winds previously and Harold refastened the aluminum roof before painting on each section. In order to reach the steep roof, Harold situated his bale elevator on the roof and walked up the elevator to “safely” do his repair work and painting.
Harold claimed he felt this was a safer way to reach the roof and declared a young man came along and agreed with him saying he thought he himself could do that and it was safe. With a chuckle, Harold did admit that he never turned around to wave at somebody who’d honked at him while he was at work! Since Darlene was worried about him doing it, he made a point to do it when she wasn’t around.
Less than a cup of paint was needed each time to paint the message; Harold commented that he’s still using the same gallon he first bought for the job. He made sure the paint had copper in it to help it last the decade until the next revision.
Harold told of a woman who once stopped and yelled at him when he was painting the roof. When she got done chewing him out, her asked her what her age was. With that, she got in her car and left without another word. With a twinkle in his eye, Harold commented, “You can always tell an Irishman, but you can’t tell him much!”
Another woman stopped by as Harold was painting the “Darlene is 70!” on the roof and asked him when they had first started doing it. She remembered that when she was just a little girl, her mom had stopped to take a picture of it.
Over the years, there have always been people talking about it. Darlene shared that when her daughter was working in Mankato, she had people ask her where she was from; when she ssid Troy, people asked if that was the town with the sign on the barn and if she was related to Darlene.
Darlene has been on trips to Chicago and Branson, Mo. and people knew of her barn with her age painted on it. She enjoys the attention the old barn roof receives.
When the roof declared Darlene to be 70, reporter John Weiss of the Rochester Post Bulletin had driven by and stopped in to interview the couple. An article was published in the Bulletin, and Darlene’s story was also included in Weiss’s book, “Back Roads.”
According to Darlene, the community just waits for the roof to change numbers. Smiling, she related the story of a little girl who passed the barn daily on the school bus. The girl thought it was taking too long for the age to be changed and had worried that Darlene might have passed away.
This year when Darlene turned 80, friends and neighbors insisted it was time for someone else to paint the roof. So many people were volunteering to do the job, that someone suggested they should have auctioned off the right to do the job!
Ultimately, the job was done by Reuben Schmidt and Cole Ferguson from Saratoga. Reuben was up on the lift near the roof when he shouted down to Darlene, “If I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t be up here!”
According to Darlene, a “big bash” was planned for this year to celebrate her 80th birthday as well as her daughter’s 50th. Invitations were sent out, a big tent was set up, a sawdust pile was set up for the grandkids, and a big spread of food was readied. Unfortunately, Darlene came down with COVID and many of the guests were not able to attend. The McGuires’ old friend Bob Wooldridge bought a motor home specifically to travel from Florida to Troy to visit them on Darlene’s 80th birthday.
Darlene and Harold continue to live on the same farm that Harold bought back in 1965. Harold rented out the house until the couple married June 9, 1969. The farm has about 209 acres; Harold raised beef cattle and crop farmed, growing soy beans and hay.
In 1970, they decided to take the dirt and rocks out from under part of the house and put in new footings and a cement block basement to level their home. “We put 18 jacks under the house and kept on it until the house was straight again.” The man assisting them in the project said Harold was the first person he’d ever worked for that worried about the home’s foundation first when remodeling.
Their house was a restaurant originally and had been located across the road next to the stagecoach stop. In 1909, the home had been moved to its current location and had a second story added to it.
Harold built all their kitchen cupboards, lowered the ceiling, put in ductwork, and sheet-rocked the home as well as refinished the hard maple trim throughout the house, removing the old black varnish.
Troy was very different in earlier days. It had many bars and houses years ago. When the railroad passed Troy by, many of the houses were moved to nearby St. Charles and Chatfield. At one time, Troy had a mill pond with a gristmill to grind flour from wheat. The original town hall was moved to Clyde, a small town five miles to the east.
Now Troy has no businesses; the Dog Patch Bar and Grill was one of the last to close. The state has removed the bridge that once led to the Dog Patch for safety reasons so you can’t even get there any more. There are only about nine houses in Troy now.
Darlene and Harold have thought about moving to town, but not for long or very seriously. According to Harold, the snowplow goes by their house by 8:30 a.m., they have blacktopped roads, and their house is set up to be wheelchair accessible with the laundry on the first floor.
Darlene loves mowing the lawn with her riding lawn mower and they both love to garden and enjoy its produce. Harold jokes that he “always tries to keep her (Darlene) healthy”; he parks in the far corner of the parking lot at church to keep her exercising!
Some of the things Darlene likes to do is go to coffee at Cabin Coffee and travel to Branson, Mo. on bus tours with her girl friends. Harold says that’s fine, but he’d “sure miss her if she didn’t come back!”
The couple also enjoys spending time with their son and two daughters and their 10 grandchildren when they have the chance.
When asked to pose for a picture by the barn, Harold and Darlene decided they needed to reenact the famous Grant Wood painting American Gothic. Harold grabbed a pitchfork and the couple headed to the barn. While they tried to imitate the somber look of the duo in the painting, it didn’t suit them. Harold and Darlene are fun-loving and their picture needed to reflect that.
Darlene doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. She exclaimed, “I’m just a farm girl from Cresco, Iowa, and I don’t know beans from apple butter!” She is surprised by how many people see, remember, and comment on their barn in Troy with its bold declaration, “Darlene is 80!”