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Herbst sings her way to 100 years
Jan. 3, 2020

Staff Writer

WAVERLY, MN – In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed, the United States Congress approved the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote; a gallon of gas cost 25 cents, and in Delano, Agnes Herbst was born; an event that has now been celebrated by her and her family for 100 years.

She was born Agnes Sylvia Grotz Dec. 23, 1919, to Robert “Bob” and Frances (Mallok) Grotz.

Her parents planned to name her Dorothy, but changed it to Agnes at the last minute “on the church steps,” because Robert’s boss had a daughter named Dorothy. They named her after her grandmother, Agnes Mallok, instead, and people called her Aggie when she was growing up.

Her father, Robert, was a carpenter for a while before working as a mechanic for most of his life at Delano Chevrolet.

Of her mother, Herbst said, Frances was “the best that there was.” She and her mother used to sing together while washing dishes. “We didn’t even know we were doing dishes,” Herbst said. “We had our minds on the words.”

Herbst grew up in Delano, and graduated from Delano High School. She remembers her home growing up as being a modern house, with a big front porch. “It was very roomy,” Herbst said.

She was the oldest of four children; two brothers, Walter and Edwin; and a sister, Eileen, but “I was number one,” she laughed.

She remembered shopping trips with her mother, and going into Minneapolis to get new dresses occasionally. When she was very young, she would get a penny when she went with her mother to the grocery store, which she sometimes saved to get an ice cream cone for 5 cents.

Even though her birthday was just two days before Christmas, she remembered always having a special celebration. “We always had a birthday cake with candles,” she said, and she always “got something wrapped up . . . with lots of paper, just for fun!” The family would celebrate birthdays quietly together, but celebrated Christmas with relatives. She remembers one of the younger kids being afraid of a relative dressed as Santa, wearing a Santa mask.

The family would pick out a Christmas tree from a pile of trees at the store in Delano, and, since there was no electricity at that time, they would decorate the tree with candles. “Oh, candles, oh yes,” Herbst remembered, “You could only leave them on the tree while you were home. It was risky!” If the candles melted too much, they could tip over, starting the tree on fire.

Her favorite subject in school was always “Music! Definitely! I hated arithmetic,” she stated. While in high school, she played clarinet in the marching band, and got to march in the Delano 4th of July parade.

After high school, she worked at the Little Log Cabin and The Last Roundup restaurants in Delano.

June 9, 1941, Herbst married Henry Herbst at St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Delano. The two met at a card party, which took place on the upper level of the Waverly KC Hall.

During one game, they were card partners. “That’s where we met,” Herbst said. “He asked if we could have lunch together and I said, ‘Why not?!’”

Once they were married, the couple moved to Henry’s family’s farm near Howard Lake. There, they lived in the large log cabin on the property for a while before building a new house in 1951. During that process, Herbst was “up on the scaffolding putting bits of mirror and marble and seashells in the mortar between the bricks,” her daughter, Dianne Carbonneau recalled, “so we had a fancy chimney on the outside.”

“Nobody ever had [a chimney] like that,” Herbst agreed.

They finally got electricity put in at the farm in the early 1950s. It had previously been lit by gas lights.

Henry was a farmer, and Herbst served as the secretary for the Wright County Farmers Union for many years, during which time she got to go by train to Washington D.C. to attend the Farmers Union convention.

The couple had five children, nine grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren; and were married 51 years before Henry passed away in 1992.

Music has been a big part of Herbst’s life for as long as she can remember.

“I’m a music nut,” she said.

Her mother was musical, too. “She liked to sing, she could sing and whistle. That’s where I got the music from,” said Herbst, who has passed down her love of music to her own children and grandchildren.

“Music has definitely run through the family from Grandma,” said Herbst’s daughter, Annette Marketon.

Herbst has loved not only playing instruments, but writing her own songs since she was young. She made up her own words and tunes to a number of songs, some of which she entered in competitions.

Though she still remembers and sings many of the songs she wrote, she has other favorites too, including her very favorite song, which is, without hesitation, “You Are My Sunshine.”

The first instrument she learned to play was an accordion, which she earned by babysitting. While babysitting for a relative, she asked if she could play the father’s accordion. He told her she could, if she waited until the baby was asleep and took it outside to the barn to practice. When she was able to play songs on the instrument by ear, he was impressed and gave it to her as part of her earnings.

She said she always played by ear, and besides accordion, learned to play piano, clarinet, harmonica, guitar, and kazoo.

“We always had a kazoo around somewhere,” Marketon recalled.

She also yodeled and sang, and enjoyed square dancing.

She loved to enter contests and write songs and jingles, and her talent with music and words earned her quite a few prizes over the years, including a trip to Hawaii, a life-sized cut-out figure of the Lone Ranger, movie tickets, and a kitchen stove.

Some of the songs Herbst has written include “Magic of Music,” “Let’s go Strolling,” “Canoeing Love Song,” and “Waverly,” a song she wrote for a local contest, and that has these lyrics: “I like to live in Waverly, it’s the greatest little town. It has a pretty lake, and folks that are great, and news really gets around. And you can fish and wish and roam around, and know your neighbors, too. Life is great by the lake, just like this happy little tune.”

Besides her music, Herbst found plenty of other ways to keep busy.

Always a creative person, in the days before color photography, she would hand-tint photos with oil paints. She used to sew colorful strips together to make rag rugs, and “she is an excellent pie crust maker,” Carbonneau and Marketon remembered. “She makes the flakiest pie crust.”

She was also a good baker and made breads, caramel rolls, jams, jellies and pickles, besides her wonderful pies.

She always had a large garden, and her family remembers spending countless holidays at her house.

She also has a lifelong fondness for peacocks, and even had a pet peacock named Pretty Boy at one point, given to her by Henry. He had gotten it from a friend because it was chasing the friend’s chickens.

“[Pretty Boy] was right at home,” on their farm, Herbst recalled. “He was real tame. He wasn’t afraid of anybody,” she said, and she could feed him out of her hand.

She is also an avid card player, and especially likes the game 500.

“If you marry into the family, you better learn how to play [500],” joked one family member.

Celebrating 100 years
Family gathered with Herbst to celebrate her birthday Monday, and staff at the assisted living facility where she lives dropped by throughout the day to wish her happy birthday. “Thank you, you’re special,” she told one staff member.

At one point, a staff member brought her a balloon and sang happy birthday, joined by her whole family. As the song ended, Herbst chimed in, “And many more!” without missing a beat.

“Everybody could write a whole book on their past, if you put all the details in . . . the good parts and the bad parts, and lots in between,” she said. “I’ve had an interesting life.”

Looking back 100 years, what is her advice to today’s generation?

“Get [your children] to start on the piano. So . . . you’ve got to buy a piano.” She added that they should learn the accordion and harmonica next, because “those are all easy ones.”

“Bring up your children in music,” Herbst said. Because, as one of the songs she wrote proclaims, “Music is magic,” so “sing, everyone, sing.”

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