Three years ago, the Centers for Disease Control released a national study on life expectancy that included state-by-state rankings-and Minnesota was near the top of that list, ranked only behind Hawaii.

So it might not be quite as big of a surprise as it would have a few years ago to learn that the population of Ecumen-Detroit Lakes’ Emmanuel Nursing Home includes four “Century Club” members-i.e., those aged 100 years and above.

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Ruth Knapp, 103; Tillie Dybing, 102; Joe Hickman, 100; and Eileen Pederson, who will turn 100 on Sept. 8, all call Emmanuel their home.

“I like it here,” says Dybing, who will turn 103 on Aug. 28.

She moved to Ecumen from Union Central about a year ago because, as she put it, “they only served us one meal a day, and I didn’t really like to cook for myself anymore.”

“The food is really good (here)… I’ve put on some weight,” she added.

When her doctor asked her a while back whether she had done anything in particular to help herself live longer, Dybing told him, “nothing in particular.”

But when pushed, she sheepishly admitted that her husband had once been given the advice to have a shot of brandy every night before bedtime, and she followed that advice too.

When she admitted that, her doctor jokingly told her, “have two”-a reference to the fact that she was in astonishingly good health for her age.

“We always have some when we come by on Sundays,” says Tillie’s son Myron, who also makes his home in Detroit Lakes with his wife, Pam.

“She (Tillie) drinks her brandy with water-–no ice,” he added, noting fondly that his dad had once told her, “You drink like a cowboy.”

Besides Myron, Tillie also has a daughter, Sue, who makes her home in Minneapolis, along with four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Pederson admits that she enjoys “a good gin and tonic” once in awhile, but otherwise she tries to eat pretty healthy, especially since being diagnosed with diabetes.

Originally from Hallock, Minn., she and her husband Arthur moved to the Detroit Lakes area about 40 years ago.

“Her father owned the creamery (in Hallock), and my dad (Arthur) owned the lumber yard across the street,” said Eileen’s daughter, describing how they met.

Though she was a stay-at-home mom who loved making a home for her husband and three children, Pederson said, “I went to college in Chicago for photography.”

“She’s very artistic,” says Diane, who lives in Detroit Lakes. “She could sew or knit anything.”

Though she doesn’t do so much of that anymore, “I’m still able to read without glasses,” Eileen said.

“She used to bike 15 miles a day, every day,” Diane added. “She’s always been very controlled about her diet and her health. We had a big garden-lots of fresh fruits and vegetables on the table-and she loved to fish! She’s a master angler in smallmouth bass. Five years ago she caught an eight-pound walleye in Canada and reeled it in herself.”

Eileen noted that longevity is in her genes: “My mother lived to be 97, and my father lived to be 89. I had two aunts who were over 100, and an uncle who was 101.”

“They tell me I’m 103,” says Knapp, “but I feel younger.”

Knapp was a resident of Ecumen’s Lamplighter Manor for 12 years, until moving to the nursing home about three years ago, after her 100th birthday.

Though she never had any children, her niece, Lavonne Ahrndt, is a frequent visitor.

“She has a great sense of humor,” Ahrndt says. “One day as I was getting ready to leave I asked if I could push her up to the window. She said, ‘No, because you’re not qualified to do that,’ and laughed.”

Ahrndt says that her aunt has always been a healthy eater as well. “She never added any sugar or salt to anything other than what was in it (naturally). She had a big garden and lots of flowers.”

At this point, Tillie interjected that she had always had one as well. “I love flowers,” she said.

Hickman’s daughter, Marian Spanjers, a former Emmanuel employee, convinced her parents to move to the community from Nebraska several years ago so she could help her dad care for his wife Laura, who was living with dementia.

Today, the couple resides together in Emmanuel’s memory care unit; they celebrated their 72nd wedding anniversary this past year.

“I have a wonderful wife,” Hickman says. “She’s the best part of the last 100 years.”

When Spanjers said that she had never known her dad to be anything but a teetotaler, he surprised her by admitting, “I’ve been drunk twice in my life.”

The first time was when he got into his uncle’s home-brewed stash when he was a teenager, the second time was when he was in the Army.

“I never heard this story before!” she exclaimed when Hickman began giving a slightly off-color account of his first encounter with alcohol.

Hickman, who was a cattle rancher for much of his life, says that his favorite activity was “riding my horse.”

“It’s on his bucket list to ride one again,” Spanjers said.

Hickman was given an opportunity to drive a team of horses this past year on his 100th birthday.

With the team’s regular driver, Chuck Grose at his side, Hickman drove those horses around town for about half an hour, as his four children, their spouses, and various grandchildren and great grandchildren sat proudly in the wagon behind him, cheering him on.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.