Eleanor Kurtzweg lights up the room when she walks in. She says hello to everyone that passes, and everyone compliments her cream-colored sweater and corsage of yellow roses.
“Thank you,” Kurtzweg said. “My children bought it for me.”
She was the woman of the hour – after all, it was her 100th birthday on Thursday. The dining room was decked out with flowers and large blue 1-0-0 balloons. Yellowing photos were on display of Kurtzweg’s childhood. A doll she was given at age 12 was in almost perfect condition.
Kurtzweg was excited to celebrate her birthday with friends and family on Thursday.
“I’m especially excited since my children came,” she said. One of her sons lives on the east coast, so she does not get to see him often. The other lives in Seattle, so they visit frequently.
Kurtzweg was born Eleanor Gruhlke in Fairchild, Wis. on April 21, 1916. She is the youngest of five, and the next youngest was 15 years older than her.
After graduating high school, Kurtzweg went on to Teacher’s College in Eau Claire, Wis. She taught for two years at a one-room school house. Kids from all eight grades were in the same class.
“It was interesting teaching there,” Kurtzweg said. “The little kids learned a lot from the bigger children.”
She had to stop teaching after two years because during that time, women were told they were not allowed to teach anymore because they were “taking jobs from the men,” she said.
Kurtzweg met her husband, Clifford Kurtzweg, at a dance. She was accompanying an officer to the dance, but when she met Clifford, she said it all just fell into place.
Clifford worked at the Civil Conservation Corp., a program started by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide relief to unmarried, young men. Kurtzweg married Clifford in Waukon, Iowa in 1937 while Kurtzweg was on Christmas break. They married in secret because at the time, teachers were not allowed to marry.
Kurtzweg has two sons, Jerry and Cliff, born in 1942 and 1943. She also had another son in 1940, but he died after two days. When the boys were 7 and 8 years old, the family moved to Billings, Mont. Meanwhile, Kurtzweg’s husband held a variety of jobs, including a milk delivery job where he cracked his knee. He needed surgery, and after that, he worked for the government.
Kurtzweg’s sons both moved to the Pacific Northwest so she and her husband soon followed. They bought a house near Lake Ballinger, and she lived there for 34 years. Kurtzweg’s husband died in 1974 from lung cancer.
Of all the places she has lived, Kurtzweg said she likes the Pacific Northwest the most.
“I like the climate,” she said. “I also like the people. There are nice people here.”
She most recently drove a 1995 Oldsmobile, which she drove until she was 92. Then, she started “seeing double” and her license was removed.
Now, she is very involved with the community at Merrill Gardens, located at 23303 58th Ave. W., which is where she lives. She is on the hospitality committee, so she greets new residents.
“I also like to garden, so I help with the gardening,” she said.
She is also involved with her church and friends. An old neighbor attended her birthday party and said she was so impressed that Kurtzweg learned how to use a computer.
“She didn’t fight it. She embraced it,” the neighbor said.
She is a self-published poet. Her book, “The Cat Who Came to Dinner” contains poems about a tuxedo cat, and she said she is working on another book of poems. “The Cat Who Came to Dinner” can be purchased here.
–Story and photos by Natalie Covate