Editor's note: Each week Forum News Service shares the life stories of residents of Minnesota or the Dakotas who have died recently. Maybe you don't know them, but their stories are worth knowing. If you have a suggestion for someone to be featured, email mguerry@forumcomm.com or call 651-321-4314.

SAGINAW, Minn. — When Tim Westlund recalls his late mother’s life, he doesn’t focus on the inevitable hardships she endured, such as the loss of loved ones or life during the Great Depression. He doesn’t remember things like arguments or slamming doors.

Instead, he speaks of time spent on the deck at their family home on Grand Lake, and late nights eating ice cream. He speaks of her beloved pets and competitive nature around game shows.

Tim doesn’t think of the negative aspects of life when speaking about his mother, because negativity was not something she brought to the table. Instead, Martha Westlund spent 105 years ingraining positivity into the lives of those around her.

“She was always positive,” Tim said. “I think that’s why she lived so long.”

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Martha died peacefully of natural causes at her Grand Lake home March 6, 2021.

She was born Oct. 5, 1915, in Duluth to August and Agusta Wickstrom, and spent most of her life at her home on Grand Lake with her husband, Joy Westlund, and four children: Diane, Gary, Terry and Tim.

Before marrying, Martha worked alongside her sister, Eleanor, on her family’s farm and attended school in Proctor.

Martha witnessed historic events such as the Minnesota fires of 1918 and the first person to walk on the moon, in 1969. She experienced the firsthand effects of the women’s suffrage movement and the Great Depression. She watched the world change around her as technology advanced and populations grew.

“Things had changed a whole lot from back then to now,” Tim said. “She never really did understand why we text so much.”

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Martha was thrilled when she set up her first email account, and was able to communicate with her daughter, Diane Tiseth, who had moved to Florida, but Tim said she always preferred to talk on the phone or in person.

“Talking to Mom was different than talking to others,” Martha’s son Terry Westlund recalled. “Her knowledge of today and years past was far beyond mine.”

Martha’s children said they would often call upon her expansive knowledge to guide them in their current lives, even as adults.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year, Martha refused to shutter her home to her children. Having lived through the influenza pandemic in 1918, she not only brought knowledge, but also hope for brighter days ahead.

“She would give me strength, just going over there, because she had such a positive outlook,” Tim said.

Martha was the oldest person to receive a COVID-19 vaccination at Community Memorial Hospital in Cloquet.

Martha Westlund with her beloved pets Pepper and Tibby. (Photo courtesy of Tim Westlund)
Martha Westlund with her beloved pets Pepper and Tibby. (Photo courtesy of Tim Westlund)

Martha’s husband preceded her in death, but her family, friends and animals always kept her company on the lake.

Joy had purchased the Grand Lake house for $10,000 in the early 1940s, and the couple raised their family beside the water, establishing what is now known as “Westlund Road.”

They flourished beside the lake, with Joy working in construction and Martha busying herself with rental cabins.

However, no matter how busy they got, the two always took time to enjoy smaller things in life.

“There wasn’t a sunset that ever happened at Grand Lake that Mom and Dad weren’t either out on the pontoon boat or on the deck just sitting together, waiting for the sunset,” Terry said.

He shared that toward the end of the sunset, Martha and Joy would often race to the top story of the house to catch the last glimpse of sunrays before they disappeared into the water.

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