Turning 100, she has good advice...and lots of company
Originally published on July 4, 2007.
She doesn’t smoke, she doesn’t drink, and she takes lots of vitamins. That moderate regimen has kept Columbia Heights resident Evelyn Kleine going for nearly a century (on July 11, she turns 100). Not only that, but she’s got two best friends in the same ballpark—101-year old Chippewa Falls resident Evelyn Nyas and 99-year old North Minneapolis resident Ruth Lindberg Gillyard, who’ll be 100 in December. Both will likely be helping her celebrate her big event, along with family, friends and fellow church members.
Kleine recently rode in the Heights Jamboree parade, representing Columbia Heights Community United Methodist Church, the church she has attended for 30 years. The church and the woman are sharing a landmark year: it’s the church’s 100th birthday, too.
Kleine said she spent her early childhood in Northeast, where she attended Van Cleve School on 25th Avenue. When she was 8, her family moved to Columbia Heights and she went to Columbia and Oakwood schools. But for high school it was back to Northeast, to East High: neither Edison nor Columbia Heights High School existed in those days. Van Cleve, Columbia, Oakwood and East are all gone, now.
"They’ve torn down every school I ever attended," she said, including Vocational High, where she learned how to sew.
Her father, Gus Holm, a Soo Line Railroad worker, took a second job as Columbia Heights’ water supervisor. Her mother, Anna, collected the money for the water bills; people brought their payments right to their house. "There was one man who was so nasty about having to pay his water bill that my mother would shake and cry when she saw him coming," Kleine said.
The daughter of Swedish immigrants and one of five children, Kleine was adamant about one thing as a child: she wasn’t going to learn to speak Swedish. "When my oldest sister went to school, she couldn’t speak English. I decided that wasn’t going to happen to me." She also scorned another Swedish tradition: "My mother loved lutefisk, but I couldn’t stand it."
The family raised chickens, strawberries, and vegetables. Sometimes her father would sell a chicken to a fellow Soo Line worker. After Anna butchered it, Kleine or her sisters would ride the streetcar with the dead chicken wrapped in paper, and deliver it to her dad at Shoreham Yards.
Kleine said that as a girl, she picked hazelnuts near 44th Avenue in Columbia Heights; the area was all woods. Central Avenue was paved when she was growing up, and the streetcar had a double track on Central but a single track up 40th Avenue.
She learned to drive the family’s 1923 Model T, an open car, with her father’s help. "He let me get behind the wheel and I drove up and down Reservoir Boulevard until I could shift gears."
Kleine said her father bought a house at 39th Avenue and Van Buren Street and moved it to 43rd Avenue. "It cracked in the middle during the move," she added.
She remembers shopping in Northeast at The Misses Johnson store on Central. "I bought dresses and hats there. They had good merchandise. My sister Ruth loved clothes; when the Johnson sisters would go to New York, they’d call her and she would go right down to see what they’d brought back. I made my own clothes, so I wasn’t so excited about what they had."
She shopped in Columbia Heights at Obersall Groceries, at 40th Avenue and Madison Street, and Packard’s Grocery, at 42nd Avenue and Jefferson Street. "We bought Snowflake bread, and we’d buy four loaves at a time." She said Madison and Main streets were dirt roads back then. She watched the construction of the Heights Theater, and attended the first movie they showed when it opened.
Her favorite place to eat was John’s Place, a Chinese restaurant in downtown Minneapolis between Nicollet and Hennepin. "It was on the second floor of the building. They had the best chow mein in town."
Kleine was married twice. Her first husband was Thornton McCurdy, whom she met at the Minneapolis Hiking Club. While Kleine worked as a dressmaker for the Cartwright Dress Company and later for a woman named Miss Dowling, making women’s neckwear, collars and cuffs, McCurdy sold plumbing and heating supplies for the A.Y. McDonald Company. That job ended with the advent of World War II, when the military commandeered all building materials.
The McCurdys moved to Philadelphia after Thornton got a job there working for Greyhound Transportation. When he was 36, he got drafted into the Army. He died from an aggressive form of cancer six months later; it had gone undetected by Army and Greyhound physicians.
Her second husband was Charles Kleine; they married in 1955 and moved back to Columbia Heights, then to Florida. After he died of heart failure in 1971, she moved back to Minnesota.
Evelyn has outlived her four siblings—Esther, Adeline, Ruth and Leonard. In recent years, she and Adeline lived near each other at Parkview Villa until Adeline died. Kleine’s greatniece, Joanie Anderson, and sister-in-law, Joan Bixler (Joanie’s mother), also attend Community United Methodist Church, and visit with each other often. Leonard’s daughters, Beverly Larson and Patricia Naegele, also still live in the area, and another niece, Sherry Swanson (Esther’s daughter), lives in Minnetonka.
Kleine loves to play cards, and plays pinochle once a week with friends in New Brighton. Until she stopped driving last year, she used to go to Columbia Heights’ senior center; she was a long-time member of the Golden Age Club. She was the bingo treasurer at Parkview for 13 years, after Adeline retired from the job. She also plays 500, canasta and cribbage with other Parkview residents.
Kleine said her health—including her vision and hearing—is still good, and she still sews occasionally. She made the drapes for her apartment, in fact. Anderson said they recently shopped for some new outfits for Kleine, and had to have her pants altered. "She was telling the seamstress at the store how to alter her pants. The seamstress was really interested; she said she didn’t know how to do that."
Kleine confided later, "I got them home and had to do it over again."
Anderson said they’re planning two 100th birthday parties, one at Parkview and one at the church. They’ve invited the mayor and the city council, the police and fire departments and will have an accordion player. "The ladies in the building are making sandwiches," Anderson said. Terry White, a resident of Park View and the unofficial "social director," is coordinating the party.
Originally published on July 4, 2007.