By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, WINSTED, MN Not many people live to see an entire century, and Ella (Kroells) Zuehl of Winsted (formerly of Lester Prairie) is one of the lucky few.
When Ella was born, July 17, 1913, the world was a different place. The Model T was hot, the average worker made $750 per year, and TV hadn’t been invented yet.
Students often stopped going to school after junior high, and Ella was no exception.
“I went to a one-room country school through eighth grade. After that, I had to work,” said Ella, who grew up on a farm on the north side of Lester Prairie.
Her father used a team of horses for the fieldwork, and harvest time involved plenty of manual labor.
Fortunately, Ella found time for fun, too. She met her husband, Roland, at a dance, and they got married in 1933.
“They both did a lot of dancing,” said Ella’s daughter, Dorothy Klobe of Lester Prairie.
Roland, a native of New Germany, started his career in the trucking industry. Later, the family moved to St. Paul, where Roland worked for a defense plant.
By the time Roland was drafted during World War II, he and Ella had four children.
The family moved back to Lester Prairie shortly before he left. Ella had a big garden and raised chickens, keeping the family well fed while her husband was away.
Roland resumed his trucking business after the war, but was eager to get a job that didn’t involve constantly being on the road.
“I said, ‘We should start a bakery,’” Ella recalled.
So, in 1954, they purchased a building in Lester Prairie that had been a butcher shop, and bought all the equipment they needed.
At the bakery, Ella made three kinds of bread: white, whole wheat, and rye.
“We started selling the bread for 23 cents for a 1.5-pound loaf,” Ella said. “Then the price of lard and flour went up, and we raised it to 25 cents.”
They also sold tasty desserts, including frosted and sugared donuts.
“I made a lot of donuts,” Ella said. “We had a big tank of grease, and a crank on the wall would drop the donut rounds. Then, when they were ready, I’d flip them with a stick.”
Nine years later, Ella and Roland decided to try something new. First, they moved to Bloomington, where Roland worked at the Red Owl bakery. Then, they went to Mankato, where they ran the Rex Bar, and later, Caledonia Lounge.
After retirement, the couple made their home in Arizona. However, after Roland passed away in 1985, Ella came back up north and rented a house in Lester Prairie.
Ella suffered a stroke several years ago, but has since recovered.
The day of the stroke, Dorothy remembers stopping by to visit.
“I did her hair every Saturday, but that day, the door was locked,” Dorothy recalled.
Ella didn’t recognize her, so Dorothy had to let herself in with an extra key.
“We went straight to the hospital,” Dorothy said.
The next few weeks were challenging, and Ella was sent to the Alzheimer’s unit at St. Mary’s Care Center.
“I didn’t know anything,” Ella said. “I didn’t even know my children.”
“They thought she’d never get better,” Dorothy added.
Fortunately, Ella’s condition did improve.
“I convinced them to take her off the medication,” Dorothy said. “They took her off, and she was fine.”
Because of Ella’s drastic improvement, she’s been able to live in Linden Wood Apartments on the St. Mary’s Care Center campus in Winsted the past seven years.
“They started me on exercises,” Ella said. “I still do them, every morning and every night.”
Every summer, Ella’s family members enjoy celebrating Ella’s birthday. She has six children, along with several grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren.
Ella said she doesn’t have a secret for her longevity she simply keeps moving forward.
“I just live from day to day,” she said. “Whatever there was, I lived through it.”