By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN With a century worth of memories behind her, Luella Hecksel of Winsted is getting ready to celebrate her 100th birthday Saturday, April 16.
She is a bit apprehensive about reaching the rare status of centenarian because it’s something Hecksel never thought was possible.
“Nobody lives that long,” Hecksel said. “My mother died when she was 56.”
Hecksel lost her husband, Wallace, in 1983; and her daughter Opal Hecksel Schwichtenberg, in 1991. Eleven years ago, when she lost all four of her brothers in the same year, she even took time to write her own obituary, preparing for the inevitable.
But despite her doubts about reaching her big milestone this week, she is doing well. She remains in her home, where she lives alone, with family and friends close by.
Most days she spends reading, listening to the radio, and watching some television usually the news and “Wheel of Fortune.”
A highlight to her weekdays is getting her meals on wheels delivered to her home and visiting with the volunteer drivers.
It’s the simple things in life that are important to Hecksel, and what she recalls as her special memories. When she talks about them, her eyes sparkle with emotion.
Dancing is something she definitely enjoys.
When she was growing up in New Germany, one of six children of Charles and Magdalene Luedke, there was a pavilion that had old-time dances every other Sunday. Everyone, both young and old, would come.
Also, by the pavilion there were movies that her father took her and her brothers, Clarence, Ed, Rueben, Fred, and her one sister, Cordella (Lemmerman) to.
Another stand-out memory for Hecksel is when her husband, Wallace, would go to town, after a week of hard work, and get ice cream to treat her and their six children.
“There weren’t any cones,” Hecksel said. “So he would take a container to town and put ice cream in it. As much as he wanted, and he brought it home. That was the kids’ treat for the week.
Her all-time favorite memory, in the last 100 years, is in 1979, when she and Wallace moved into the home she currently lives in.
“We didn’t have to work so hard anymore,” Hecksel said.
“The kids were bigger and independent. We could do other things besides work on the farm.”
Although Hecksel never took the time to get a driver’s license, she has loved to travel and has been on several major trips. Her first trip was to Germany with Wallace.
After Wallace’s death, Hecksel got traveling fever, so she found relatives who enjoyed accompanying her on trips to Washington DC, Branson, MO, Florida, and Canada.
Hecksel is in good health today, but she has struggled with several health crises over the years.
“I have had nine ambulance rides,” Hecksel said. On one of those rides, five years ago, her heart actually stopped and she remembers hearing one paramedic asking the other, “Do you think she is going to make it?”
That trip to the hospital ended with Hecksel getting her first pacemaker. Later, she would have a second pacemaker replacing the first one. She has also had gallstones removed, colon cancer, with chemo treatments that made her lose all of her hair in 1986, and a titanium elbow replacement when she broke her elbow falling down.
Although she has experienced sadness, pain, and stress in her life, Hecksel has had many joyous occasions, as well, including the birth of their six children which she is very proud of.
• Diane is married to Glen Jorgensen and they live in Waverly.
• Opal Schwichtenberg died in 1991.
• Marilyn is married to Neil Dungan, and they live in Chicago.
• Marlow is married to Darlene, and they live in Mayer.
• Harlan is married to Pauline, and they live in Winsted.
• Lois is married to Kevin Campbell and they live in rural Mayer.
The Hecksels have 15 grandchildren, and 20 great-grandchildren.
One hundred years of memories
“We worked so hard,” Hecksel recalled of her younger years, when she lived with her parents, Charles and Magdalene Luedke, on their family farm in New Germany.
“We didn’t go to the store. All we got from the store was maybe fruit. We raised everything. We had cows, hogs, chickens, ducks, and geese, but no turkeys. We planted potatoes, and we had apples, strawberries, and we canned everything.”
There wasn’t any electricity, which meant milking cows by hand with a kerosene lantern to see by. Without a refrigerator, the milk had to be kept in the well to keep it from spoiling.
In 1932, at the age of 21, Luella married Wallace Hecksel of Winsted. They had met at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Hollywood Township.
The couple first lived with Wallace’s parents, Henry and Minnie Hecksel, east of Winsted. They then moved to several other farms before returning to the Hecksel farm, which they purchased in 1944.
Together, Luella and Wallace survived the Depression, a drought, and the Dust Bowl of the ‘30s which caused periods of severe dust storms.
“We had plenty to eat because we raised everything, but one summer, there was a drought and there were no crops and we had to sell some cows,” Hecksel said.
In 1936, to feed the cows, Wallace bought hay from up north which consisted of swamp grass and cattails. He also cut twigs and branches off of Basswood trees so the cows would be able to eat the leaves.
That same year, Hecksel recalls the weather turning extremely hot, but the storm windows remained on the house all summer because of the dust storms.
“We had the Dakota winds. The dust would seep in the house and it would get on the dishes, tables, everywhere,” Hecksel said.
Wallace and Luella continued to raise all of their own food and butchered chickens, pigs, and cows for meat and, by now, even had a refrigerator to store it in.
Hecksels’ garden was huge, and there were apple trees and strawberries, too. Hecksel also had a large flower garden because she loves flowers.
She sewed dresses for her daughters, mended overalls for her men, and many times the dining room was cleared out for a rack set up for quilting.
Hecksel even made her own soap, which she said would take all day, then it was put in a crock and chiseled out as needed.
With her first washing machine, she remembers having to hire help to pump the handle to keep the agitator going.
Without a dryer, clothes were hung in the upstairs hallways to dry in the winter and sometimes outside to freeze-dry.
Until 1965, the family remained on the original Hecksel farm, but then Wallace decided he was ready for a change.
He sold the farm to his son, Marlow, who lives there today, and bought another farm closer to Winsted, just down the road from their previous farm.
Their new farm kept the couple very busy with a large garden, cropland, and raising many hogs.
Eventually, that farm was sold to Harlan, and Wallace and Luella retired in a separate home on the farm, where she lives today.
Hecksel’s only comment when asked how the world has changed in 100 years was, “Kids today think they have to have everything new when they get married. They think they have to have a new house, car, and furniture. We had very little.”
And when asked if she has any suggestions for others on how to live to be 100, she answered, “I don’t know what that would be.”
So far, Hecksel’s favorite birthday present is a letter she received last week from the White House signed by President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, congratulating Hecksel on her upcoming birthday.
The Obamas wrote, “You have witnessed great milestones in our nation’s history and your life represents an important part of the American story.”
Hecksel has the letter and the envelope, with the White House return address, in a gold frame sitting on her table for everyone to see.