Columbia Heights women celebrates 110th birthday

The supercentenarian reminisces about growing up in Heights through the 1900s

Still as lively as ever, Evelyn Kleine is excited to go to Red Lobster for her birthday.

“I always get the lobster,” Kleine shared. “Not just the tail, the whole lobster.”

Evelyn Kleine celebrated her 110th birthday on July 11. (Photo provided by st. anthony nursing home)

This year on July 11, Kleine won’t be just celebrating any old birthday. She will officially become a supercentenarian at the age of 110, a feat that only one in five million people reach, according to U.S. records. According to Robert D. Young, Director of the Gerontology Research Group, she is the second oldest currently living Minnesota citizen, with the next closest being 111 years old.

The meal is on the house, too. Her favorite restaurant, Kleine and her family have been celebrating at the Roseville Red Lobster since her 99th birthday. When management found out her age, they promised her a free birthday dinner for her 100th birthday… then her 101st… and her 102nd…

“We’ll be going back there every year,” Kleine’s great-niece Joanie Bixler-Anderson said. “She’s pretty well known there; her picture is even on the wall.”

Bixler-Anderson is now Kleine’s “brain” since her “forgetter is working overtime,” as she puts it. From a small family, Bixler-Anderson shares a close relationship with her great-aunt and visits her almost daily at the St. Anthony nursing home. The two spend time playing bingo and cribbage, a game that Kleine often wins.

“I don’t know how she does it! She smokes me all the time,” Bixler-Anderson said.

Although Kleine claims that Bixler-Anderson is her “brain,” she is still able to reminisce about the early years in Columbia Heights, the days of dirt roads, milkmen and street cars.

Evelyn Kleine and her great-niece Joanie Bixler-Anderson celebrating Kleine’s birthday at the Roseville Red Lobster. (Photo provided by Joanie Bixler-Anderson)

Growing up in early 20th century Heights

Kleine was born Mable Evelyn Holm in 1907 in northeast Minneapolis, near 24th Avenue and Jackson Street. Her mother, Anna, didn’t like the name Mable, but compromised with her father, Gus. Although Mable is her first name, Anna called her daughter Evelyn and the name stuck.

The Holms moved to Columbia Heights when Kleine was just 8 years old in 1915. Gus had accepted a job as the water supervisor for the City of Columbia Heights. At that time, there was no access to water lines for the residents in Heights. In fact, her father installed the first water meters in the city to determine billing. Residents delivered their money to the Kleine’s home where her mother would collect the payments then deliver them to Columbia Heights city staff.

Kleine recalls a rude resident that would give her mother a hard time about paying his water bill.

Evelyn Kleine pictured in the right front, with her sisters Adaline, Esther and Ruth in 1910. The girls grew up in early 20th century Columbia Heights, the days of dirt roads, milkmen and street cars. (Photo provided by Joanie Bixler-Anderson)

“When she would see him coming down the street, she would shake and cry,” Kleine remembered.

The family bought a home that existed at 39th Avenue and Van Buren Street, then moved it to 43rd Avenue between Madison and Monroe streets. The quaint abode was a cozy home to the Holms ­— Kleine and her three older sisters, Adeline, Esther and Ruth, and one younger brother, Leonard.

Later on, Gus and his brother Axel Holm built a second floor to the home to add a bedroom for the girls. She and her sisters slept like sardines, side by side, on one bed.

“It was a folding bed to boot,” Kleine added.

Kleine remembers some stores in the area, like Packard’s and Obersold’s. These stores were limited on groceries and supplies, and Kleine recalls frequent visits to their home by the milkman, iceman and butter and cream man.

“At that time, milk wasn’t pasteurized, so it separated, so a bottle of milk would have a lot of cream at the top,” Kleine remembered. “My dad would get the bottle of milk and he would drink that cream.”

Gus also worked as a maintenance worker for the Soo Line railroad engines at night.

Kleine’s mother Anna raised chickens in the backyard. She would have them butchered and send her daughters off to deliver the chickens to her father and his co-workers at the Soo Line mechanic’s shop. Kleine remembers walking with her sisters down Central Avenue when it was a dirt road with butchered chickens under their arms. They would hop on a streetcar at the corner of 40th and Central to make the delivery.

She also recalled walking with her best friend, carrying the butchered chickens upside-down from a stick held between them.

Evelyn Kleine studied dressmaking at Vocational High in Minneapolis when she was young. Pictured is Kleine modeling a dress she designed to represent the 16th century in 1924. (Photo provided by Joanie Bixler-Anderson)

The family also had a garden filled with vegetables and a strawberry patch in their backyard. The strawberry patch was huge, Kleine remembered. It stretched all the way from their backyard on 43rd street to the back of a home on 44th.

“Strawberry shortcake every Sunday,” Kleine recalled with a smile. “Boy, we had a lot of strawberries. I’ll never forget that.”

She remembers ice skating and tobogganing during the winter. The area just beyond 44th Avenue was all woods, and Kleine remembers exploring and collecting hazelnuts.

In 1920, the Holm family moved to a home at 3722 Van Buren Street. Kleine remembers learning how to drive her father’s 1923 Model T in front of the house, stick-shifting up and down Reservoir Boulevard. In fact, Kleine was driving from before she was 16 years old all the way up to a month before her 99th birthday.

Kleine and her sisters were all married in the home on Van Buren. She said all her sisters walked down the large staircase for each of their own weddings.

When Kleine turned 100, she was able to visit the home with her great-niece. A young family now lives in the home and welcomed them in for a tour. Bixler-Anderson said Klein hiked right up the stairs where she was married. The family was thrilled to hear about the story behind the staircase, the coal chute in the basement and memories of the old neighborhood.

Kleine learned how to sew at Vocational High in Minneapolis when she was 15, where she fell in love with the art of dressmaking. She said she’s been sewing and tailoring her own dresses her entire life.

Kleine married Thornton “Mack” McCurdy in 1932. The two met at the Minneapolis Hiking Club and would often spend their time going on weekend hikes and fishing.

She worked as a dressmaker by trade while her husband sold plumbing and heating supplies for the A.Y. McDonald Company. They later moved to Pittsburgh where McCurdy worked for Greyhound Transportation until he was drafted into the Army for WWII. Before he left overseas, he died of pancreatic cancer which went undetected for years.

Several years later, Kleine met Charles Kleine, whom she married in 1955. The two moved back to Columbia Heights, then to Florida. Charles passed away from heart failure in 1971, which prompted Kleine to move back to Minnesota to be closer to family.

Kleine has been living at the St. Anthony Health Center since 2011. She attributes her good health to Lasix, or water pills; vitamins that she has always taken. She is also sure to drink coffee at every meal. At the health center, Kleine is able to enjoy activities like restorative walking, as she currently gets around in a wheelchair. She participates in the FIT Functional Fitness program and has worked up to pedaling three miles in the FIT to Pedal class. Her birthday milestone was celebrated with a birthday party at St. Anthony Health Center’s sister community, Chandler Place Assisted Living on July 11.