Still strong, sharp and stunning
I first met Anna Stoehr when she was only 111. What’s so memorable about her isn’t just that she’s the oldest living Minnesotan, or that she celebrated her 113th birthday in October, or that until April of this year—when she moved into an assisted living community—she was the oldest documented person living independently in the world, but rather that she remembers so much. She is living history.
I waited until she finished her daily exercise class to chat with her. She shared some thoughts and observations about what it was like having been born when William McKinley was president, growing up at the beginning of the 20th century, and the incredible changes she has seen regarding women in over a century of living.
Proud of education
Anna’s face lights up when she tells me she attended school during a time when education was not available to many, particularly females.
“I went to country school, first through eighth when I received a diploma. I am very proud of that. Now everyone is expected to go to high school and then college,” she says. “I’m not sure so much schooling is always needed; only if you want to, I think.”
After Anna graduated, she continued to live at home, with much of her time spent helping families who needed someone for a week due to illness or after a baby was born.
“I can’t believe women have a baby and the hospital sends them home after just one day,” she remarks on modern practice. “If they have other children at home, what do they do? How do they get rest? Some may have help, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to chase them home so fast.”
Dating and marriage
She wasn’t looking for a husband when a neighbor introduced her to Ernest Stoehr, her future husband. “We knew each other four or five years.”
I asked Anna what they did on dates and she tipped her head back and laughed. You could see the memories return by the faraway look in her eyes.
“Oh, we got together on Sundays after church, had picnics and played ball. We had parties at each other’s houses,” she says and is quick to add, “but our parents were always there.”
In Anna’s opinion, women now have a lot of pressure to find a job, meet the right man and marry.
“I was 27. I don’t know if there’s a perfect age, but that was right for us. We took on a lot of responsibility,” she says referring to raising five children–two boys and three girls (three of whom are still living), along with 14 grandchildren and “too many great grands to count.”
About survival not success
Anna and Ernest bought a farm in 1936. “We had a lot of work to do, sun up to sun down. Had a garden and milked cows, had chickens, canned everything. That’s how we fed the family.”
Now, Anna says, it’s buy, buy, buy: “It’s all about success. For us, it was a matter of survival.”
I asked if she had advice for today’s women. Anna nodded yes. Foremost, Anna believes children need more of their mother’s attention. At meal time, everyone should gather around the table and “children shouldn’t get up until the meal is finished.”
Women need to appreciate the vote, Anna says. “I voted in 1928 and have only missed one election.”
“And, I am disgusted by the lack of privacy. Everything is so public, that’s not right. Even I get too much attention just for being old.”
She might be referring to recent events. Anna was Grand Marshall during Plainview Corn Cob Days. She also threw out the ball at a Twins game, and her birthday party last year was attended by over 200. “That’s about enough for me.”
Her final advice to young and old, women and men: “Trust in God, that’s the only reason I have lived so long. There’s no secret except that.”