As Ed Larson of East Bethel celebrates his 100th birthday on 12-12-12, everything around him has changed -- except him.
John Edward Larson turns 100 Wednesday. He never married, never had kids. He doesn't smoke or drink. He's lived his entire life in northeastern Anoka County, in the same quaint farmhouse where he was born.
He says he's been to California, but has never traveled farther east than Wisconsin and has never been to Canada. Perhaps there's still time. He's able, fit and, yes, he still drives his old pickup. He passed his driver's test earlier this year.
"I'm getting a little old now," he said last week from his kitchen table.
Larson says his centennial is "just another day," but knows it's a milestone. He recently received a birthday card on White House stationery signed by President and Michelle Obama and another card signed by Gov. Mark Dayton to prove it. And there was a big celebration at the Crossroads Evangelical Church in Forest Lake last week.
He doesn't look old. He has a full head of hair and "most of my teeth."
He wears glasses for reading. His sister and housemate, Irene Anderson, 95, says Ed's hard of hearing. But he walks around without any help, has a firm handshake and has no problem telling stories about the time Bud Grant came to his farm to hunt crows, or about the one-room schoolhouse just a mile down the road, from which he graduated at 14 after completing the eighth grade.
"We used to fool around, play a little ball," he said when asked how he occupied the time when he wasn't milking cows, going to school or competing for attention with his eight siblings, two of whom are still around. "We called it kittenball. You call it softball."
Still does chores
Larson, who worked in construction and paved roads for a living, raked the entire yard by hand this fall. He traps gophers, plows snow and mows the lawn with his tractor. He gave up hunting and fishing a few years ago and laments that he rarely gets out in the winter, although Irene said they do go shopping in Forest Lake now and then.
He plays cribbage with a nephew and usually wins, Irene said. He follows the stock market. He last attended a Twins game four years ago, during the final season at the Metrodome, and has never been to a Vikings game. But he watches the Vikings faithfully and says they need a quarterback.
The secret to his longevity?
He's been drinking coffee every morning since he was 5. He goes for short walks. He feeds the cat. He never misses "Wheel of Fortune."
And he says he reads the newspaper every day.
He said he never took a bride "because I never met that perfect match." The love of his life, apparently, is life itself.
He doesn't own a computer. The cabinets in his kitchen are the same ones that were there when a midwife delivered him a century ago. The large framed black-and-white portrait above the kitchen table of his paternal grandmother and thickly bearded grandfather suggest an era long ago.
His grandfather died in 1909, before Ed was born. But other Larsons have proved the family's longevity. An uncle lived to be 102. Ed's dad lived to be 90. Ed's brother, Verlo, is the young pup of the family at 86.
At 5-feet-8-inches and 150 pounds, Larson is in the kind of shape men half his age might envy. He said he takes four pills per day -- "for thyroid and prostate" -- and hasn't battled gout in a while.
He said he hasn't been to a movie "in a long time." Nephew Jim Larson thinks the last movie his uncle saw was one of the Rin Tin Tin movies in the 1920s.
"Oh, I can't do very much," Ed insisted. "I haven't got the energy. I don't go ice fishing on Coon Lake, up the road, like I used to."
His diet is "pretty simple, boring really," said Irene, a widow who seems even more vigorous than her older brother.
"It must help," she said of their diet. "We're still here."
No, he wasn't around during the days of Lincoln. William Howard Taft was his first president and he's survived a total of 18 presidencies thus far. That's right, he's lived through Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Eisenhower and Reagan were his favorites.
Changes came slowly
Imagine the changes he's seen. His family got its first car -- a Model T -- in 1916, but continued to farm with horses for decades after. Electricity came to the farm, located in East Bethel with a Wyoming mailing address, in 1939 and running water came in the 1940s. Before that, the family stored milk and cream in an ice house, using slabs of ice cut at Coon Lake.
He says he has no plans to relocate to Victor Hill, a local cemetery, any time soon.
"I'm just hanging in a day at a time," he said.
"Do I behave? I think so."
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419