ST. PETER, Minn. — For Gale Kreykes, volunteering has always been a way of life. At 99, the St. Peter woman continues to volunteer every weekday serving and packing meals at Parkview Manor in St. Peter and for the Meals on Wheels program.
"I don't like sitting around," she told The Free Press . "Sitting around is for the birds."
Kreykes puts in 20 hours a week for Meals on Wheels, the Lutheran Social Service nonprofit organization that delivers free or low-cost meals to the elderly. For many recipients, it's the only hot meal they have on any given day.
It's her seventh year dutifully arriving at 9 a.m. every morning to prepare hot meals for the 40 senior citizens living at Parkview Manor and elsewhere around town. When she moved to Parkview in 2011, it didn't take long for the nonprofit to recruit her.
"I think the lady that was in charge of the dining room knew me and she just kind of grabbed me when I came into the door," Kreykes laughed. "I've been here ever since."
Her daughter Korky Schaefer works as kitchen supervisor at Parkview Manor alongside her mother. Born in 1946, she remembers a childhood where both parents actively volunteered with 4-H and the Nicollet County Fair Board.
"She's volunteered her whole life," Schaefer said, who recalls a childhood on the family farm between St. Peter and Mankato where canning vegetables, milking cows and riding horses was a way of life.
Kreykes and her husband Keith Kreykes, worked together and volunteered together. All five of their children were involved in 4-H, where they were leaders. Their love of horses led them to ride a wagon train from Minnesota to Valley Forge in Pennsylvania to commemorate the United States Bicentennial in 1976.
The 1,171 mile trip took three months as they paraded through towns along the route. Gale Kreykes said it renewed her faith in humanity.
"There's a lot of really good people in this country," she said. "It was an eye opener."
After graduating from Mankato State Teacher's College (now Minnesota State University), Gale Kreykes taught math and music at three school districts before marrying and eventually moving to the farm along the banks of the Minnesota River in the 1950s.
She became a research analyst for the St. Peter Regional Treatment center. Later she joined her husband working in the kitchen there, retiring when she was well into her 80s. The husband and wife served over 30 years on the Nicollet County Fair Board until Keith Kreykes passed away in 2014.
"Dad did the grounds, Mom did the book work," Schaefer said. "They were there long enough that they were a steady influence. They knew what was going on and what should be done when."
The couple was instrumental in ensuring the fair was a success every year — even after a 1998 tornado destroyed most of the Nicollet County Fairground buildings — which had to be rebuilt in a matter of months in time for the fair. One year, the travelling carnival overbooked and ceased to show up; the couple had to think fast to replace the rides with a blow-up bouncing room. When Gale Kreykes retired in 2014, it would become clear that her replacement had big shoes to fill.
"After she retired the fair board called her back for help," said daughter-in-law Mary. "She was in her 90s then. You can't be secretary of the fair board for over 30 years and walk away and have somebody new come in. They needed her to get them through that transition."
Looking ahead to the new year, Gale Kreykes has no plans to slow down. She begins every morning by washing pots and pans from the day before. Then the food arrives from Mankato and she gets each meal ready for the drivers to deliver meals before serving residents at Parkview Manor.
"I pack up the dirty buckets and dirty pans and get them ready to ship out," Gale Kreykes said. "I have to get everything organized first, get all the containers counted out and then we fill the containers."
After serving, she sits down with three friends for a meal of stroganoff, one of the more popular dishes. Liver? Not so much. She laughs.
Schaefer says her mother rarely misses a day, and ensures that things run smoothly every morning.
"I will never be able to keep up with her," Schaefer said. "She's in charge."
An AP Member Exchange shared by The Free Press.