Minnesota’s oldest resident Erna Zahn dies at 114

Journal file photo Erna Zahn, the oldest woman in Minnesota who died Aug. 9, pets Polka the cow during a July visit to Oak Hills from the Schroeder Farm near Courtland.

NEW ULM — Minnesota’s oldest resident, Erna A. Zahn, died peacefully Aug. 9 at Oak Hills Living Center.

“She got what she always prayed for — no pain,” said Zahn’s daughter, Marley Kuckhahn of New Ulm.

“She ate all her meals before she died. She just didn’t wake up,” added Kuckhahn.

Services were held at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, with burial in the church cemetery.

“We had a joyous celebration with more than 80 family members. It was good,” Kuckhahn said.

Often celebrating her birthday with some type of special event, Zahn celebrated her 114th birthday on April 14 quietly with family and friends at Oak Hills Living Center, where she lived out her last months.

“That’s what she wanted to do. She was tired of answering the same questions the last few years, like how she lived so long. So we had a smaller party,” Kuckhahn said.

Her earlier birthday parties included celebrating with family and friends at Sleepy Eye Brewing Co. and even riding a horse on her 99th birthday.

As a young girl, she enjoyed horseback riding, saving pennies to pay for $1 an hour rides in rural Wisconsin.

At age 8, it was her responsibility to have the family dinner ready and light wick lanterns, while her mother worked in the family-owned IGA general store in Pickett, Wisconsin, a small village between Ripon and Oshkosh.

After high school, Zahn attended business school before working as a secretary.

“Erna made our clothes, often from other old clothes,” Marley said.

Longtime Journal readers might recall a newspaper photo of Zahn shoveling snow more than 50 years ago.

“Get out and shovel snow. It’s really good exercise,” Zahn said in a story with the photo. “Eat breakfast. It’s what keeps me going.”

She credited religion and diet to her longevity, too.

“Say your prayers. Don’t skip meals. I can’t complain,” Zahn said when she turned 111.

Her favorite foods included bananas and dark chocolate.

Longevity runs in the family. Some of Zahn’s sisters reached their late 90s. Her mother lived 95 1/2 years.

Erna married Meilahn Zahn in 1935. They had six children, 25 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren. Zahn lived by herself in an apartment at age 109.

At the time of her death, Zahn was the oldest Minnesotan, third-oldest American and the eighth-oldest person in the world, according to her obituary.

The world’s oldest person was a French woman who was born and died in the same place at the age of 122 years, 164 days, according to the Gerontology Research Group. The world’s oldest living man lived for 116 years, 54 days in Japan, according to the organization.


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