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111-year-old Buffalo Center woman dies

By Staff | Oct 31, 2009

Jon Echternacht of River Falls, Wis., with his grandmother, Ruth Kelly, on her 108th birthday three years ago at Timely Mission Nursing Home in Buffalo Center. Photo submitted

BUFFALO CENTER – A 111-year-old woman who was the third oldest in Iowa and the 49th oldest in the world died Wednesday in Buffalo Center.

Ruth Kelly, who was old enough to walk when the world entered the 20th century, died at Timely Mission Nursing Care Center in Buffalo Center.

Murray Berggren, Timely Mission administrator, said Kelly and her family were personal friends of the Walter Mondale family.

Berggren said she recalled how she had once caught a 40-pound muskie – all by herself.

Every year she won a blue ribbon for her angel food cakes at the Blue Earth County Fair in Faribault, Minn., Berggren said.

“I know she lived a long time, longer than most but there is still a sense of lost because she was our living connection to the 1890s and the whole 20th century. She lived through many of the major changes and innovations of the modern world,” said Jon Echternacht, Kelly’s grandson, a journalist in Hudson, Wis.

Kelly was born Sept. 20, 1898, in Allenville, Ill. She born marion Frank Kelly Dec. 31, 1917, in Swea City. He preceded her in death by more than 40 years, dying Sept. 15, 1969, in Garner.

They had four children, all of whom Kelly outlived. They were Marion Frank Kelly Jr., born Oct. 6, 1918, died Feb. 15, 1981; Floreine (Flo) Mae (Kelly) Echternacht, born Jan. 10, 1920, died June 21, 1993; Maurice E. Kelly, born 1927, died 1932 and Lowell Eugene (Gene) Kelly, born Sept. 30, 1929, died July 11, 1992.

Marion and Ruth moved to Elmore, Minn., in March 1932,Krupp and Otto Snyder at the Krupp Garage. In 1934, Marion opened his own business, Kelly’s Ford Garage. He also served as mayor of Elmore for at least two terms.

Later in life, Marion was a Star Route mail carrier in Garner.

Ruth moved to Swea City after Marion’s death. She had been a resident of Timely Mission Nursing Home since Nov. 7, 1989.

She was always very proud of the fact that former Vice-President and Minnesota Sen. Walter “Fritz” Mondale was a personal friend who grew up in Elmore and attended high school with her son Gene.

At the time of her death, she was the third-oldest Iowa resident, according to records kept by the state department of elder affairs. Two women, age 112 and 114.

Following is a column Echternacht wrote about Kelly for the Hudson Star-Observer.

We all enjoy significant birthdays throughout our lives and I’d like to acknowledge a special one in my family. My maternal grandmother, Ruth Kelly, celebrated the 111th anniversary of her birth on Sept. 20.

While such significant birthdays as 18, 21 30 and 50 are a dime a dozen these days, 111 is significant, even in Iowa, a state with, it seems, particularly extended longevity.

Grandma is running third place for the oldest Iowan. She trails two women. One is 113 and the other 112. We in the family know her as a pretty competitive woman and believe she will make it to the top before she’s done.

Just in case you think becoming the oldest person in Iowa is an easy task, here are some stats from the state’s department on aging.

As of Aug. 13, Iowa had 184 people (154 woman and 30 men) age 100 and 189 (169 woman, 20 men) age 101.

In fact, there are 721 people in the state 100 years and older ranking Iowa second among the 50 states in percentage of total population that are centenarians, according to the department of elder affairs.

Grandma and the two ladies who are older are ranked in a special category called Super Centenarians for those 110 and older.

She has become somewhat of a celebrity at her nursing home. My youngest sister sent word from the staff before the big event that Grandma was very talkative telling everybody her birthday was coming up and how old she was going to be.

An assistant said she wished her a happy birthday that morning and asked her if there was anything she wanted. “A beer,” she said. What kind? “Hamms,” she replied. The only trouble was my two sisters and I didn’t consider the fact she still had a taste for barley pop and Hamms is not easy to come by these days, especially on Sunday in small town Iowa.

When she was 102 or 103, she wanted one candle for each year on her birthday cake. The activities director obliged and with an assistant she lit the candles and extinguished them before the sprinkler system went off. There was a marked increase in temperature in the room when all the candles were set ablaze.

When she was 105, she took her first motorcycle ride and made front page news in the local weekly. A local biker with a sidecar gave her a tour. Her only reaction was the trip “was too short.”

At 106 she got a longer motorcycle ride.

When you stop to think about the events that have happened in Grandma’s lifetime over three centuries, it is mind boggling. She was alive when the first motor cars came on the scene, the first airplanes; she was eligible to go to the polls when women first got the vote, radio, TV, space ships and moon landings Not to mention the more accelerated technological advances of the last few decades such as hand held computers, cell phones, text and twitter.

She kept her subscription to the Des Moines Register into her late 90s until her eyes got too bad to read, even with a magnifying glass. She kept the paper and sold her TV in the nursing home with the declaration, “Nothing good is on it (TV) anymore.”

She told me once she had been reading the paper, “Since I was a little girl.” That’s a pretty loyal print media customer in my book.

Personally, I love it when I’m asked to fill out that little information sheet that all medical caregivers ask for. The ones you fill out while you are forced to wait for an indeterminate amount of time for your appointment that you were on time for The part that asks about your family history; parents, living or dead, did they have cancer, heart failure, etc.

This is supposed to mean something about your own health, but I think it takes much more genetic research than an informal questionnaire. I enjoy very much adding an extra line in there that says, “Grandmother, 111-years-old, good health.”

Good health at that age would qualify if you can breathe on your own, but Grandma has much more on the ball, even though her eyesight is dim but her hearing hasn’t failed much.

She will break into song, old ones, with the second verses probably not heard by many living people.

She knows the lines to phrases long since shortened in modern times. One in particular comes to mind she recited off the cuff one day, “Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes; and elephants to ride wherever she goes.”

With that kind of spirit, it’s hard to doubt her in the quest for the Iowa record and we are all rooting for you grandma.

However, my middle sister thinks bigger things are on the horizon for Grandma. Shortly before our trip to Iowa, she e-mailed me a bulletin: “World’s oldest person died today at 115. Title now held by 114 year-old woman in Japan stay tuned!”