In Knute Nelson’s memory care unit, a frail, tired woman has joined an elite group of people around the globe: She turned 110 on May 19.
Alma Leuthner was born in 1910, when William Howard Taft was president of the United States. She was nearly 2 when the Titanic sank, 3 when the first crossword puzzle was published and 8 when World War I ended. At age 10, white women in America got the right to vote.
“On her 100th birthday, she expressed amazement that she was still alive and enjoying life,” said her son, lawyer Bill Leuthner of Alexandria, who is 71. “She was looking forward to more good years.”
People aged 110 and older are known as supercentenarians, and the Gerontology Research Group, a global group of researchers that studies the oldest humans, estimates there are anywhere between 300 to 450 supercentenarians alive today, with about 60 to 75 of them living in the United States.
Alma, nee Dreher, grew up on a farm just outside Long Prairie, her son said, with three sisters. The girls studied music from the local nuns, and Alma learned to play the violin and the piano. Alma attended high school in Long Prairie and business college in St. Cloud.
For a time, she played violin at the Alexandria movie theater to accompany the silent movies, her son said.
“One day when she was a teenager, she convinced her mother that she was able to drive the car to town,” Bill said. “So she and her mother set off to town. On the way they met her father coming from town with the horse and buggy. Her father was upset because he didn't believe that women should drive a vehicle. She persisted and convinced her father that she could drive equally as well as any man.”
In 1932, she moved to Alexandria. The next year she met and married her husband, John Leuthner, and she was about 40 when Bill was born. He was one of two children.
Alma played bridge, refinished antiques, sewed and took pride in her flower gardens.
“At age 85, she commented that she was too old to be digging in the garden,” Bill said. “She was told that this was good exercise for her and would contribute to a long and healthy life.”
In 1996, she lost her husband.
When she was 95, she had surgery for colon cancer and needed no further treatment.
She lived on her own until she was 98, when she stopped driving and moved into Nelson Gables where she met new friends and continued playing cards, he said. She was able to attend family gatherings, church and dine out with family and friends.
At age 107, Alma’s mental and physical health deteriorated, Bill said, and she moved to the Knute Nelson nursing home where she still lives.
Her daughter-in-law, real estate agent Mari Leuthner, said her mother-in-law sleeps most of the time, can’t see well, and has barely spoken during the past year. Still, she eats three meals a day, and on her birthday she had cake, wore a birthday hat and spoke.
“They said her heart is still strong,” Mari said. “Alma has always been an incredibly strong woman.”
Bill said his mother loved her children and grandchildren, and said many times as she grew older that her family sustained her. She maintained a strong positive attitude and strong religious faith, and had belonged to Zion Lutheran Church since 1933. She believed in moderation in all things.
“My mother is an incredibly optimistic woman,” Bill said. “She expected the best in life and left the past behind. I have always been very proud of her character and her many talents. She is a great inspiration to me and to all her family and friends. I will always reflect on her great life. I am blessed to have so many memories of my mother.”
Alma’s niece and goddaughter, Sharon Schuetze of Spicer, recalled Alma’s “loving, kind and positive ways,” as well as how she made her home, cooking, entertaining, and appearance all beautiful.
“She has always had her own unique style,” Schuetze said. “She is definitely an inspiration to me, and I will always remember and cherish our wonderful adventures together.”
Grandson Alexander Leuthner said Alma made dumplings for him while they watched “Wheel of Fortune” and played double solitaire. She also loved eating pork chops at the Douglas County Fair.
“She understood and taught me to take everything day by day,” he said.