By Nan Royce
COKATO, MN Esther Kelly, who celebrated her 100th birthday recently, loves to watch and count the semi trucks that go past her home at Cokato Manor.
On summer days, she and her friends sit outside and enjoy the weather for several hours, and they all count the semis. A friend said, on one banner day, the group tallied more than 30 semis driving past.
In the winter, the semi- watching and counting continue, but from inside Cokato Manor, so the temperature is bearable.
Esther’s 77-year-old son,. Jim, said Esther always greets him with smiles and hugs and gleefully announces, “There’s my baby!”
Jim also said when he was growing up, his dad’s best friend was a semi-truck driver, and his mother enjoyed watching the big rigs way back then.
Esther’s delight in semis has not diminished in the decades since.
Jim said when it was time for Esther to move to Cokato Manor, she was insistent about having a room with a window. She was adamant and would not change her mind.
Esther got her window, so she can look out any time she wishes to see what’s driving by.
Dream to reality
Surprisingly, although Esther attained one of her goals to reach her 100th birthday she had never achieved her goal of riding in a semi.
According to Cokato Manor staff and Jim, Esther did mention the idea of taking such a ride from time to time.
As often happens in Minnesota-nice small towns, when someone has an idea, people’s wheels start turning.
In Esther’s case, Cokato Manor’s Activities Director Joy Marschel made a few phone calls, and eventually spoke with semi-truck owner and operator Jeff Curry. Would he, she asked, be willing to give Esther a semi ride in honor of her 100th birthday?
Curry was immediately on board, more than happy to help Esther’s dream come true.
At 100 years old, Esther remains an effusive, bubbly, and spry lady, smiling often, and blowing kisses to everyone she knows, Cokato Manor staff said.
When Esther speaks, she sounds excited, happy, and uses a lot of expansive gestures. All of that joy happened simultaneously January 31.
Esther sat in her wheelchair, near Cokato Manor’s entry, eagerly awaiting a new experience.
When Curry and his sparkling bright blue semi entered the Cokato Manor driveway, Esther’s eyes grew wide, her grin got bigger, and she hollered “WooHoo!”
She paused momentarily, her eyes taking in the big blue beauty. “Gosh, isn’t that big!” Esther exclaimed.
Her chariot awaited
The Cokato Manor entryway was crowded, and staff, friends, and family lined the hallway. Everyone wanted to see Esther head off for her semi ride.
Director of Nursing Tresha Melquist and Marschel, along with a couple staffers, made sure Esther was bundled up, and then wheeled her outside, right up to the side of the truck, where Curry was waiting to greet her.
Staff and family assisted Esther onto the massive semi seat, and buckled her up. Curry hopped into the driver’s seat, and closed his truck door
As Curry prepared to drive, it appeared as if there was some ecstatic conversation happening inside the truck cab.
Curry fired up the engine, and let it rev for a bit. Then came the magic moment. Curry expertly guided the semi out of the parking lot and Esther was off.
Esther waved and blew kisses at her fan club of folks standing outside in the cold sunshine watching her go.
Eventually the group went back inside, and, just like Esther and friends, watched for the truck through the front windows.
During the wait, Melquist watched the residents, guests, and staff come and go.
“We have lots of happiness here,” she commented. “We have magical moments every day.”
Checked off the bucket list
No one knows for sure just where Esther got to go on her big ride. She was gone for about half an hour, though, before the big blue semi glided to a stop out front.
Several people went out to greet her and help Esther get out of the truck.
“How was it, Esther?” someone yelled over the noise of the engine.
“Marvelous,” Esther shouted back, grinning from ear to ear, “just not long enough!”