Centenarian credits longevity to keeping active

NEW ULM – Surrounded by family and friends, Mildred Ranweiler-Nelson reminisced over an old black and white photo album.

One page of the photo album is dedicated to the 1934 World Fair in Chicago. Nelson and several of her friends had taken the train to the fair.

Eighty 80 years after the train trip, Nelson’s memory remains sharp, commenting that a round trip ticket to Chicago only cost $10. At the time of this trip Nelson was 20 years old.

Saturday, Nelson celebrated her 100th birthday. Her family hosted a party in her honor at Christ the King Lutheran Church in New Ulm. Nelson had an abundance of family in the New Ulm area, bragging she had 20 nieces and nephew in New Ulm alone.

Nelson credited her longevity to keeping active. “I was into everything,” said Nelson. For proof, family members need to look no further than her photo album, which shows Nelson taking part in a variety of sports and activities. In her youth, she tried nearly every sport, including, baseball, basketball, golf, bowling and tennis. Tennis was a personal favorite. “My mom used to say I should take my bed to the tennis court because I practically lived there.”

Nelson explained that back in her childhood, kids needed to make up their own games, and it was this spirit that kept her on the move most of her life.

In addition to tennis Nelson and her friends were avid hikers. Dozens of the pictures in her album feature Nelson with friends hiking the trails near Hermann Heights and the surrounding hillsides. Other pages in the album are dedicated to vacations up northern Minnesota. Nelson is easy to spot in most of the pictures since she is usually climbing something.

When she was not on an adventure with friends, Nelson worked as a teacher. Nelson taught students in a one-room country schoolhouse. At most, Nelson taught 15 students at a time, but their ages ranged from five to thirteen. “They were all well behaved,” said Nelson “I never had a problem.”

In looking at old photos of the school house, Nelson laments it is no longer standing. Having spent most of her life in New Ulm, Nelson has witnessed the town grow up around her.

Nelson also has memories of some of America-defining moments, including the Great Depression and World War II. A niece reminded Nelson that on her 50th birthday, all of America was glued to the television watching the Beatles’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

For Nelson, many of the places she remembers are gone or have changed, but she is happy to have experienced an eventful life and felt fortunate to be healthy enough to celebrate her 100th birthday. The day before her birthday, she had been struck with a bad case of the flu, and worried she would be too sick to attend her own party. Luckily her illness had passed by the morning. “I knew it was my birthday, so I had to get better,” Nelson joked.

Many of the guests at Nelson’s 100 birthday celebrated with her the previous year as well. Both the Ranweiler and Nelson side of the family have made a tradition of attending the party every Feb. 8. Some family members came from as far away as California and Pennsylvania to help celebrate an amazing woman and her amazing life.

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