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Centennial celebration: Fulda’s Edeth Jenkins marking 100th birthday on Sunday

FULDA -- Edeth Jenkins didn't expect to reach 100 years of age, but she will celebrate her centennial Sunday. And even though she's informed Jesus that she's ready to go, she's still looking forward to the celebration here on earth.

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Fulda's Edeth Jenkins will celebrate her 100th birthday on Sunday. (Tim Middagh/Daily Globe)

FULDA -- Edeth Jenkins didn’t expect to reach 100 years of age, but she will celebrate her centennial Sunday.  And even though she’s informed Jesus that she’s ready to go, she’s still looking forward to the celebration here on earth.

“I can’t believe it,” said Edeth. “I never thought I would live so long.”

There must be something in Edeth’s genes because her mother, too, reached her 100th birthday. Born in her parents’ home in Round Lake on Oct. 2, 1916, Edeth and her youngest sister are the last remaining members of their original family.

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“Everyone else is gone but my little sister. She’s 78 now. We called her the caboose of the family,” laughed Edeth. “Her name and my names were made up. I was supposed to be Edward, but Ed never got here so I got here instead. Mother still wanted a child named for her husband, so I became Edeth. I’ve had to spell it and pronounce it all my life.”

In case you’re wondering, it’s pronounced “Ed-eth”.

“Little” sister Floretta (a combination of Flora and Etta), along with other family members, has planned a birthday celebration that will last two days, starting with a family dinner today and ending with an open house to which all of Edeth’s friends are invited on Sunday afternoon.

It will be a party that’s been 100 years in the making, though the details haven’t been told to Edeth, who was told that some things ought to be a surprise.

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Edeth’s early years were spent here in southwest Minnesota. She moved to Reading for a short time after Round Lake and then relocated to a house that still stands on First Avenue in Worthington when she was 1 year old.

Edeth’s father farmed for a while, then did carpenter work and repaired cars. He even worked at the rendering plant -- “It was a stinky job,” -- Edeth said, wrinkling her nose. He finally settled into a job at the power plant, working there for many years.

Edeth graduated from Worthington High School in 1934 and remembers fondly her participation on the girls basketball team, on which she played forward.

“Women’s sports teams were new,” Edeth explained. “At first we weren’t allowed to play other towns. They didn’t think it was healthy for us to do that. Then, during my time, they started letting us play other teams.”

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From high school Edeth moved to Wheaton, Ill., where she attended Wheaton College, majoring in Christian Education. Though she had a scholarship because of her academic background -- she was valedictorian of her high school class -- she still was “on the five-year plan” as she put it, due to having to work her way through school.

“That was a good time,” Edeth recalled. “I worked in professors’ homes for my board and room. I was interested in missions and had planned to be a missionary, but I never went to a foreign field. But I was vitally interested in missions.”

Her mission field, as it turned out, was the youth of America. Edeth spent her entire career -- nine years in Illinois and then many years in California -- serving as a Christian education director in various churches.

“I enjoyed it and did that type of work the rest of my career in different churches with different pastors but always that type of ministry,” Edeth stated.

It was a time when men weren’t willing to do jobs like that in church.

“In those days men weren’t interested in it and weren’t going into that field,” Edeth -- an unassuming pioneer in women’s sports and ministry -- elaborated. “In my later years of work I was always replaced by men as they went into it and were taking over.”

In addition to teaching and ministering to children and teens -- and sometimes adults as well -- Edeth wrote much of the Sunday School and youth curriculum for the churches she served. She even wrote materials for a publishing house, a precursor to the curriculum publishers of today, to which churches could subscribe for a month’s worth of materials at a time.

In her spare time, Edeth was a fan of travel films. They cost a lot less than actual travel, which was hard to fit into a youth minister’s salary.

Edeth spent 43 years in California, but then, as her mother grew older and needed more care, she moved back to Minnesota.

“I’m thankful for my family; we’ve been a close family,” Edeth shared.

Now in her third year at Maple Lawn Nursing Home in Fulda, Edeth finds time to attend three Bible studies a week where she both learns and encourages those younger in their faith. She takes her participation in the three studies seriously and hopes that she’s serving God even as she enters her 100th year.

“I have to be available for God,” Edeth said.

When asked about advice she would give from her years of wisdom, Edeth didn’t have to think long or hard.

“I would say put the Lord first and you’ll never be sorry,” she advised. “The looseness of morals is the hardest thing to see in our country. It’s not good. I feel for the kids. It’s a hard world they are moving into.”

Edeth is in no doubt as to the lifetime of blessings she has enjoyed.

“The Lord’s been very good to me,” she said earnestly. “It was hard to work my way through college, but it was worth it. I’ve had such rich exposure to things; the Lord has given me so much richness.”

With a lifetime of clean living and joy in the Lord, it’s easy to guess what Edeth is most looking forward to in her remaining years.

“I’m looking forward to going to heaven,” Edeth stated. “I told the Lord I was ready and he could take me any time, but he doesn’t seem to hear me.”

If the Lord spares her another day, Edeth would love her friends to join her in celebrating her birthday from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at Maple Lawn.

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