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100 years old... and counting

OMA GROVE will turn 100 this month. With relatives who have lived past 100, she says the secret of a long life is pretty much all about genetics.1 / 2
RUTH KNAPP will celebrate her 99th birthday this month. She has a scary prescription for a long life: It's all about "hard work," she says.2 / 2

On Friday, March 29, Lamplighter Manor in Detroit Lakes will be hosting a very special birthday party for two of its residents.

That's the day that Ruth Knapp celebrates her 99th birthday -- and fellow Lamplighter resident Oma Grove will celebrate her 100th.

The ladies will welcome friends and family for a special open house at 2 p.m. that afternoon.

But even though they share a place of residence, and a birthday, the paths that these two women have taken to their current home has been very different.

A native of Benson, Minn., Ruth Knapp came to Detroit Lakes by way of Moorhead, after her husband William retired.

"When he retired from the railroad, we moved here, to Syverson Lake," she said. "We lived there for about 10 years, and then we moved into town."

Though she grew up on the farm, Ruth said her mother wanted her to be a teacher.

"So I went to Moorhead Teacher's College for one and a half years (after graduating high school)," she said.

But after a year and a half there, Ruth was left without enough money to continue her education, so the dean of women at the college got her a job taking care of an eight-year-old girl in Dilworth.

That's where she met her future husband -- and she married Bill in 1937. They would stay together until his death in 1974.

"I worked at restaurants in Moorhead for most of my working days," she said. The couple did not have children.

Eleven years ago, Ruth moved to Lamplighter Manor, which she says is "the best home I've ever had."

"I love the peace and quiet," she explained.

Ruth stays busy going to play bingo twice a week, and has been a weekly visitor at the Detroit Lakes Senior Nutrition Site in the past.

"I had been going down to the nutrition center every Wednesday," she said, but added that she hasn't been quite as much of a regular in the past few months.

So how does she fill up her days?

"Lately, I've been daydreaming," she said with a laugh.

Fortunately, her health has been pretty good.

"I'm feeling pretty fair for my age," she said.

So what's the secret to living a long and healthy life?

"Hard work," said Ruth with a smile.

Oma Grove was born on a farm near Dexter, Iowa, just nine days shy of 100 years ago.

"When I was a year old, we moved to a farm between Jackson, Minn., and Spirit Lake, Iowa," she said.

When Oma was 13, the family pulled up stakes and moved again, to a farm near Osakis, in Douglas County.

"We were there for about a year and a half before we moved back to Jackson County," Oma said. "I went to high school in Jackson, and I did my teacher's training there."

Like Ruth, Oma also grew up on a farm.

"It was a good place to grow up, and to live," she said.

After graduating high school, "I took a year of teaching lessons before I was ready to teach country school," Oma said.

But she didn't find a job right away.

"There were too many teachers for the schools then -- we were a dime a dozen," she laughed. "Teaching was pretty much all girls did back in those days."

She taught country school for two years before getting married -- continuing to teach after marriage was simply not done in those days, Oma added.

Oma married Donald Grove in 1935, in Jackson.

"We lived on the other side of town from my folks," she said.

In 1946, they moved to Adrian, where "my husband and his father and brother had an International implement shop," Oma said.

"I kept the books there for a year or two," she added.

But she didn't help out on the farm too much, Oma said. "I had three daughters to take care of."

"We were there (in Adrian) for about 60 years, until we moved here," she said. "We were married nearly 67 years. He died in 2002, which is almost 10 years ago. Time goes by so fast."

Oma became a Lamplighter resident "three years ago last November," she said.

She has frequent visits from her family, which has grown quite large. One daughter lives with her husband in Detroit Lakes "when they're not down south (for the winter)," while another lives near Vergas and the third makes her home in Illinois.

The family now includes 14 grandchildren, 30 great grandchildren and "about a dozen great greats, along with a lot of step-greats and step-great-greats," Oma said.

And while "macular degeneration has cut down on my activities a lot," Oma says, she enjoys listening to audio books and "there are still a couple of games I can play on the computer."

She also has "some coffee friends" that she spends time with each day.

Though she has difficulty with both her sight and hearing, Oma says, her health is otherwise pretty good for someone who has lived for almost a century now.

"I try to take care of myself, and I was lucky to be healthy most of my life," she said.

Genetics has also had a likely role in her longevity, Oma added.

"My father had nine months of being 100 (years old), and my mother had a sister who lived to 102," she said. "That (family history) might have something to do with it."

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