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At 102, Eleanore Ebeling enjoys a sharp mind -- and daily exercise, too

Eleanore Ebeling, 102, is shown Thursday in her apartment at Ecumen Meadows in Worthington. (Tim Middagh/Daily Globe)1 / 4
Eleanore Ebeling has shared this birthday card with her sister for the past 20 years. (Tim Middagh /Daily Globe)2 / 4
Shown is the cancelled check that was payment for Eleanore Ebeling's birth in 1915. (Tim Middagh/Daily Globe)3 / 4
Eleanore Ebeling is shown at age 2 with her father. (Special to the Daily Globe)4 / 4

WORTHINGTON — A little more than a month ago, Eleanore Ebeling marked another birthday.

It was her 102nd.

“We didn’t do anything, but we sure celebrated my 100th,” said Eleanore, a longtime Brewster resident who now lives at Ecumen Meadows in Worthington. “I had two celebrations then, so I didn’t think I needed any more. Two years ago, we had a birthday party at Christmas time because so many in the family are teachers and they had vacation then. Later, I had a second party on the 13th of January, which is my birthday.”

Eleanor was born in 1915 on her parents’ farm place, the daughter of Ella and Sam Casper. She grew up on the farm and attended a country school about a mile and half from home, walking to and from class.

“Our farm was across the road from the Brewster school, and sometime we were asked to come the Brewster school … and so there were a few years that we went to town school,” Eleanore recalled. “One year we went to town school and they said they would put us ahead a grade, so we skipped the fifth grade that year. But we preferred the country school.”

Eleanore graduated from high school in 1932 and remained home to help care for her siblings. The oldest of seven children, she married in 1934.

“He (husband Al) was from northern Minnesota and his dad owned a farm up there, so we went up there to live,” she said. “My three kids were all born up there, and we lived there for 13 years. My husband hated the rocky soil and we eked out a living in the rocks, he always said.

“We had a chance to move back here. One of my aunts who lived in Brewster said her renter was leaving and asked if we would like to move down there. So we moved back and stayed at that same place, which we later bought.”

Al farmed there until his retirement in 1983, and he and Eleanore then moved into town in Brewster for 21 years. They became residents of Ecumen Meadows in 2004; Al died in 2006.

New technology

In 102 years of life, Eleanore has seen more innovation than almost anyone. Objects long taken for granted now were once something to be marveled.

“I remember the first radios,” Eleanore said. “I was going to country school and one of the families in the district had a radio, which was brand new to us. They said we could come over there and listen to the inauguration of (President Calvin) Coolidge. We walked over there to this farm place ... and the radio had open tubes and wasn’t even in an enclosed box. … We went up there to hear this radio with three dials, and there was so much static that we never heard a thing.

“I think it was a cloudy day or something ... and it was a long time before we ever had a radio. By the time my folks got a radio, the boxes were enclosed and the tubes were inside.”

Eleanore learned to drive with her parents’ Model T Ford. At country school, she learned from a beloved teacher, Mrs. McCall.

“We had a family in our district that lived in a one-room house with a dirt floor,” Eleanore said. “They were very, very poor — all of us were poor, but they were very poor and there was no welfare in those days. When Mrs. McCall discovered some of our lunch pails were open, she knew right away where the food went ... and she started bringing lunch to school for kids to eat.

“Mrs. McCall was a very devout Christian,” Eleanore continued. “She was so concerned that there was maybe only one family that had any church affiliation. She told these kids that when she went to church, she would pick them up and take them to the church of their choice, which was Lutheran. She was Catholic, and she still took them to the Lutheran church in Brewster (Trinity Lutheran) while she went to the Catholic church.

Life on the farm, of course, presented its challenges. Times were particularly though for Eleanore and Al when they worked the land in northern Minnesota.

“When we started farming, we were in debt about $300 or $400 for horses, machinery and more. There was a drought …. and that $300 took us three years to pay off. When we finally got the debt paid off,  then we we bought a tractor. Our first tractor didn't even have rubber tires, and my father-in-law thought we were going to go broke again for sure, but every year was better.”

Another vivid memory for Eleanore comes from the “Dust Bowl” era.

“My mother would put handkerchiefs over our faces so we wouldn't breathe that dust, and she put a wet cloth by the windowsill to keep the dirt from blowing in,” she remembered. “Those dust storms were terrible.”

Eleanore still owns the farm she and her husband had when they moved near Brewster in 1947. The Ebelings had a large pasture for dairy cattle, 40 acres for corn and 40 acres for beans. Eleanore’s renter now puts the farm into either corn or soybeans each year.

A sibling tradition

Of her six sisters, two remain — Mavis, 92, who lives in the Minnesota community of Braham, and Betty Berreau, who is nearly 90 and still lives in her own home in Brewster. Eleanore notes that her youngest sister was the first of the siblings to pass away.

“She was born in 1932, when I graduated from high school,” Eleanore said. “In fact, I always considered her my graduation gift.”

It is with Mavis that Eleanore has continued a unique way of observing birthdays each year.

“Twenty years ago, I sent her this birthday card that said, ‘To my attractive, intelligent, wonderful sister’ and then on the inside it said, ‘You can send this card back to me,’” We've been sending that same card back and forth to each other ever since, and the card is now 20 years old.”

The card, which features Lucy from Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts” comic strip, is filled with correspondence between the two sisters. Given the sisters’ small handwriting, room for many more years of birthday greetings remains.

There are a couple of other keepsakes in Eleanore’s apartment that she’s still proud to have after more than a century. Both have to do with the day she entered the world.

“Brewster had a doctor back then, and I was the first child they thought they needed a doctor for,” Eleanore explained. “The doctor came by horse and buggy out to the farm on that wintry day. … A few years later, he was cleaning out his desk one day, and he contacted me and said, ‘I got the cancelled check from when you were born. Do you want it?’ Of course I did.

The check submitted for delivering Eleanore was written in the amount of … $15.

“And that was before the depression,” she pointed out, as she moved toward another souvenir from more than 100 years ago. “I also have the birth announcement that was sent to my great-grandmother. When she died, she gave it to someone else in the family, and later it came back to me.”

One other proud belonging of Eleanore’s: a ring that once belonged to her husband. She thought she’d lost it a few years back, but then-Meadows resident Hardy Rickbeil found it on the property’s lawn while picking up debris.

“He was a good friend,” Eleanore said of Rickbeil. “He sat at the same table with me every day.”

While that ring is special to Eleanore, there’s another one she hold dear.

“I earned the money to buy my the class ring myself,” she related. “My folks couldn’t afford the $7 for the class ring, so one of the teachers asked me to make Christmas cards for dollar a dozen. I ended up making enough money to buy the class ring, and I was really proud that I was able to do that.”

Family, faith and fitness

Even though she was born on the farm near Brewster and remains in southwest Minnesota 102 years later, Eleanore has done her fair share of traveling. She and her husband spent two winters and several winters in Arizona, where her son lived. She also recalled flying to Mexico City — “my first plane ride” — for a vacation as a result of her husband’s efforts on the local elevator board.

“Mavis’ husband also sold seed corn, and through that seed corn company they offered trips,” Eleanore said. “We went to Brazil, Hawaii, Spain. … We had some wonderful trips.”

Eleanore and Al had three children. Their eldest son, Al Jr., lived in Arizona and worked for AT&T before dying about three years ago as the result of a heart attack at age 77. Their daughter, Janice, married Delbert Pomerenke; they operated a greenhouse in Windom and are now retired while still living in that community. Son Ron went into farming — he bought his own land when his parents were still farming. He still lives on that farm and is retired.

Eleanore has seven grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild who was born recently. Just how has she managed to live long enough to see a fifth generation of her family?

“It’s really because of my faith, my patience and lots of interests,” she said. “I enjoyed gardening, sewing, quilting, painting. … I used to teach community service classes in Brewster every winter.

“I’m pretty limited now because of my hearing and my eyesight, but this is a great place to live,” she added of Ecumen Meadows. “They take wonderful care of us and offer us lots of activities.”

One activity Eleanore takes part in regularly is exercise. She said she exercises about five times per week in the mornings, including work on a new step machine each morning after breakfast. Although she’s dependent on a walker, she still does a lot of walking down the Ecumen Meadows hallways.

Even though she’s lived a long and satisfying life, Eleanore has an adage applies to her outlook on what she knows is inevitably coming someday.

“Somebody has said that I have seen a lot of people in my past,” she said. “I say, ‘They are my future.’”

Ryan McGaughey

I first joined the Daily Globe in April 2001 as sports editor. I later became the news editor in November 2002, and the managing editor in August 2006. I'm originally from New York State, and am married with two children.

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