Marion “Mimi” Hunter was born in an era in which women couldn’t vote, the Wright brothers had just taken flight and only 14 percent of American homes had a bathtub.
The Minneapolis native, raised near Lake of the Isles during Theodore Roosevelt’s second term, would remain in that area the next 109 years of her life. And although her weekly hair appointments prevent her from developing a speck of gray, Hunter on Sunday — her 110th birthday — will join an elite group of the world’s oldest living people.
“I’m going to live forever,” she joked Saturday at her assisted-living home in Bloomington, flanked by family in town for the occasion.
Her secret? A stiff Dewars scotch and water every evening at 5 p.m. sharp, loved ones tease. Not to mention good genes, weekly massages and a hardworking immune system.
Gerontology Research Group, a U.S.-based organization tracking data on those 110 years and older, has validated only 49 other living supercentenarians across the globe, all but one of whom is female. In order to get on the list, Hunter will need to show three forms of identification.
Hunter’s youngest daughter, Diane Hogan, doesn’t recall her mother ever becoming ill or staying in bed like everyone else. Hunter believed in moderation in diet and exercise and led “an incredibly healthy and charmed life,” Hogan said. As a child, she was such the picture of good health and hygiene that a mold of her teeth was on display at the Minnesota State Fair. She didn’t get her first cavity until age 33.
After a life of dancing, first ballet and then ballroom as an adult, Hunter was still active into her later years, maintaining a driver’s license until 99 and virtually free of any medication until 100. Because of peripheral neuropathy, she started using a wheelchair about five years ago, and her eyesight is now failing, along with her short-term memory.
“She can’t remember what she had for breakfast or what she did 15 minutes ago, but if you go far enough back she can recall some of these things,” Hogan said, such as her college years at the University of Minnesota and her time abroad.
Dressed for her weekend celebrations in a red blouse, matching cardigan, petal pink nails and pearls, Hunter gave sage advice about refusing to follow a traditional life path.
Even though she met her late husband Bill Hunter in high school, they waited nearly eight years to wed and even longer to start a family. “Don’t rush [into marriage],” she said, “it lasts a long time usually.”
Hunter’s parents dashed her dreams of becoming a dancer in New York City — they worried she’d only amount to a chorus girl — and recommended seeking out higher education instead. At a time when barely 10 percent of Hunter’s female peers would attend college, she graduated cum laude with an English degree in less than four years.
Journals dating to 1929 chronicle Hunter’s two-month excursion abroad, a gift from her parents for finishing school. Hogan now reads those tidy cursive entries to her mother, gently reminding her of particular names and daily adventures.
After a lengthy courtship, Hunter married Bill in 1930 and built an English Tudor-style home with him in Edina. He ran a life insurance business while she became a homemaker and volunteered on the side, never receiving a paycheck. The couple became charter members of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church and were dancing partners for 65 years. After her husband’s death in 1995, Hunter began treating the family to annual vacations and was still regularly hitting the dance floor.
“I’ve had a lot of fun,” she said. “Everyone should.”