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Two at Emmanuel celebrate 100th birthday -- Third woman must wait 'til Oct. 10

PIPPI MAYFIELD/RECORD EMMANUEL'S CENTENARIANS, from left, are Genevieve Bannister, Mabel Walters and Elsie Nelson. Genevieve and Mabel both celebrated their 100th birthday on Aug. 19, while Elsie will celebrate hers on Oct. 10.

It's not too often that a person lives long enough to reach their 100th birthday.

So it was a rare occasion when two women at Emmanuel Community in Detroit Lakes reached the century mark on the same day.

Mabel Walters and Genevieve Bannister both celebrated their 100th birthday on Thursday, Aug. 19 -- and fellow Emmanuel resident Elsie Nelson will join them in the centenarian club on Oct. 10, 2010.

"I'll be 100 on  'ten-ten-ten'," as Elsie puts it.

Though the three women do have some things in common -- they all married men who served in World War II, for instance -- they are also unique individuals.

Mabel Walters

Mabel was born in Lodi, Wis., and lived most of her life in Enderlin, N.D., before she moved to Detroit Lakes five years ago to be near to her only daughter, Karen Bueling, who lives on Big Cormorant Lake.

Mabel married her husband Bernard while he was on a short summer leave from the service. Bernard Walters was injured and captured during the Battle of the Bulge, and remained a prisoner of war for several months.

"He never wrote home that he was injured," said Mabel's daughter Karen. "He didn't want his family to worry."

Though he could be classified as a genuine war hero, Mabel said she married Bernard "because he was good to his mother."

After she graduated from high school in Enderlin, she had plans to become a nurse, but not long after taking the train to Minneapolis for nursing school, she got so homesick that she turned right around and went back home again.

The train got back to Enderlin so late at night that Mabel simply crawled into her bed and went to sleep. The next morning she went down and had breakfast with her parents as though nothing had happened.

"Mom and Dad never said a word about it," Mabel said.

So she got a job at the local department store, Peterson's, and also cleaned homes for families in the area, which is how she made her living until she got married.

Once she and Bernard got married, Mabel became a homemaker, and raised their daughter Karen while Bernard worked for the Soo Line Railroad.

Karen was an only child, but grew up to have three children of her own. Mabel also has four great-grandchildren.

Genevieve Bannister

Genevieve was born in the Oklahoma Territory, and grew up in Tamarack, Minn., near Duluth. But she lived most of her life in Hackensack, Minn., before moving to Detroit Lakes to be closer to her granddaughter, Lisa Tufts (her only child, daughter Lois, passed away in 1970).

"She still remembers the red velvet seats on the train ride from Oklahoma to Minnesota," said Lisa, who also recalls visiting her grandmother at her home in Hackensack when she was 90 years old.

"She (Genevieve) was up on the roof of her home, fixing the shingles," Lisa said.

Unlike her fellow centenarian Mabel, Genevieve did finish nursing school, and worked as a licensed practical nurse at the Ah-Gwah-Ching Nursing Home in Walker, Minn., for many years before her retirement in 1975. Like Mabel, she has three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren -- most of whom were in Detroit Lakes for her birthday celebration.

Elsie Nelson

Elsie was born in Sweden, and emigrated to the U.S. when she was just four years old, with her mother and sister. Her family immediately settled in Detroit Lakes, and she's "been here ever since."

Elsie's grandfather Emanuel paid for their passage to the U.S. by boat, but her mother Hulda had to lie on her visa application, saying that she was coming to America to visit her husband (she was not married at the time).

Hulda quickly remedied that situation, however, by marrying John Richard Thunstrom within a month of making her home in Detroit Lakes.

Elsie grew up in the Detroit Lakes area, and eventually married Arthur Nelson.

Like Mabel and Genevieve, Elsie also had just one daughter, Phyllis, but she also raised her grandson Ricky like a son.

Elsie lived her entire married life in the same building where she had started grade school as a child -- her husband's family purchased the building and the surrounding land from the school district after it closed in 1957.

(As it happened, their family had originally donated the property to start the school many years earlier.)

Though Elsie moved into Detroit Lakes about a decade ago, she still owns the old schoolhouse, where the original chalkboard still hangs on one of the walls, even though it was remodeled to house the Nelson family.

"I can't do away with that schoolhouse," Elsie said.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454