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February 4, 2009 - Cindy Votruba
A few months ago I did a story for our weekender edition on Emma VanKeulen. I was looking for story ideas and had asked Pat Schultz, director of Hill Street Place if she knew of anyone I could do a feature story on, and Emma immediately came to mind. Emma was going to turn 100 that November and she has probably more than 100 descendants, which includes 50 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren (and their spouses!).
She was a spry woman for 99 at the time, getting together with her usual group of women to play bridge on Wednesdays. And she still had a good memory, knowing each of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren by name.
She told me about growing up in Milroy. Her brother was Bob Zwach, long-time manager of the Milroy Yankees. She grew up on a farm and remembered when they had to use kerosene lamps, how her mother made feather pillows and how nothing went to waste. Emma went onto get her teaching degree and became a favorite among her students. One of her students, Bert DeCramer, also lives at Hill Street Place and is part of that card-playing group. I had written the story and I had gotten a voicemail message from Emma. I’m thinking, “oh-oh, maybe she doesn’t want me to do the story.” I called her and all she had to say was to add the part where she’s an avid Twins fan. Whew, no problem. She even got a special birthday greeting at one of the Twins games this past season. And every day before her 100th birthday, one of her relatives did something special for her.
In November, Emma celebrated her 100th birthday with family and friends at Carlin Hall. A few weeks ago, when I was at Hill Street Place for another story, I asked her how the party went. She said it went well and there were a lot of people there. Yes, she was playing cards at the time.
So when I saw her obituary yesterday, I was taken a little by surprise. I know that nobody lives forever, but I just figured Emma still had a lot more living to do.
“God has been good to me,” VanKeulen said in my story. “I always say my prayers, every day.”
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