In a pre-pandemic world, friends and family of Detroit Lakes resident Fran Carlson would have celebrated her 100th birthday with a big bash at the Holiday Inn.
Instead, they had to settle for staging a parade that wound its way past her Long Avenue home on Sunday, May 17. Honking horns, balloons, streamers, posters, and choruses of "Happy birthday, Fran!" "Happy birthday, Mom!" and "We miss you!" could be seen and heard over the course of about 15 minutes, starting at 2 p.m.
Carlson stood out on the lawn of her home, mask in place, to greet as many of her loved ones as she could. "One-hundred years. That's pretty big, isn't it?" she joked, adding that she wants to keep going for as long as she can.
"I feel good," Fran said in a telephone interview on Friday, May 15, two days before she reached her century milestone. Her secret? "I'm pretty active."
Though she hasn't been able to go out dancing — one of her favorite pastimes — since the pandemic shutdown began, Carlson said she still goes for walks every day, albeit at her own pace.
"I don't go in for that fitness stuff," she said — not that you'd ever know it, as Carlson participated in her first 5K run 20 years ago in Wisconsin, at age 80, and walked the 5K portion of the Fargo Marathon just prior to her 95th birthday, five years ago. In the latter race, she was joined by daughter Colleen Schmit, granddaughter Kelli Simonson and great-granddaughter Ava Simonson, as well as Kelli’s husband Tony and their young son Ryder (Fran's great grandson).
"She goes for little walks when the weather’s nice and her stride is pretty strong," Schmit said. "She walks at a pretty decent clip. She’s faster than a lot of people half her age."
Carlson added that, until recently, she also enjoyed accompanying one of her neighbors when she performed in a band at area nursing homes. "I helped her with her music and stuff," she said. "But we can't do any of that now."
"She is a very social person so with the coronavirus that’s been kind of a challenge for her," Schmit said.
On Sunday, however, "she was just beaming from ear to ear," Schmit added. "She loved every minute."
Carlson, a native of Detroit Lakes, has always had a pretty active lifestyle, says Schmit, who also makes her home in the community. But part of the secret to her longevity may also lie in the genes: Fran's mother, Katherine Eidenschink, lived to be 101. Some of Fran's family members posted side-by-side photos of the two centenarians on Facebook to commemorate the historic occasion.
Sunday's parade was the first time Carlson had seen most of the participants in some time. "They don't let anybody come in here (i.e., inside her condo). It's about this virus thing. I'm healthy."
Schmit echoed that statement, noting that she fondly thinks of her mother as "a spitfire."
Though Carlson grew up in Detroit Lakes, she spent much of her post-high school life in the Twin Cities, where she met her future husband, Carl Albert Carlson, at a post-World War II dance (he was a soldier who served overseas during the war).
"They dated for a couple of years, then got married, in August 1947," said Schmit. "She was pretty much a stay-at-home mom."
After raising her four children, Fran worked at Minnesota Fabrics in the Twin Cities for 15 years; she and Carl both retired in 1975, and continued to make their home in the metropolitan area until Carl's death in 1997. Four years later, in 2001, Fran moved back to her hometown to be closer to her family. She's continued to make her home here ever since.