Before Marion Hunter died earlier this month — not long before what would have been her 111th birthday — she attributed her longevity to a combination of habits.
“She would tell you that the reason was that she was dancing,” said a daughter, Adele Brellenthin.
Hunter began dancing as a girl in Minneapolis, and danced as a ballerina into her late teens, appearing in ensemble performances around the city, including an appearance at the State Theatre. Her mother nixed her dream of going to New York City to dance professionally in favor of college. But when she met Bill Hunter and married in 1930, they kept dancing, ballroom style.
“My mom and dad danced all the time. That’s why they were so physically fit,” Brellenthin said. “She was the happiest when she and my father were dancing.”
But Hunter also indulged in a daily shot of Dewar’s scotch and a splash of water at 5 p.m., along with Cheetos. Some in her family attribute her longevity to that daily habit as well.
Hunter, who died in Bloomington on Aug. 2 of complications from a broken hip, earned the title of supercentenarian, the honorific awarded those who reach 110. Although more than 53,000 living Americans had reached 100 in 2010, there are typically fewer than 100 U.S. residents alive at 110 at any one time.
In the last federal census, only five living Minnesotans had attained age 110. Her age stood out within her family: her parents died in their early 80s and a brother at 72. She reached her advanced age after surviving breast cancer in her late 70s.
Hunter was born in 1905 near Lake of the Isles, as Marion Adele Ashley, and attended Northrop Collegiate School, which later became part of the Blake School. She graduated in 1924, and went on to the University of Minnesota, where she completed a bachelor’s degree in English in only 3½ years. She never worked outside the home, but was encouraging and curious about the careers of the next generations, said her granddaughter, Diane Cornell, an attorney.
Five years after they married, the couple built one of the first homes to be developed south of 50th Street in Edina, across Wooddale Avenue from the Edina Country Club, which the couple helped to form. She was also the last living charter member of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Edina. She lived in the house for 76 years.
Hunter was a patron of the arts, but also volunteered at the former St. Barnabas Hospital in Minneapolis, and belonged to The Woman’s Club of Minneapolis for more than 50 years.
She kept a diary and wrote every day from her late teen years until age 106, Brellenthin said.
“She could look up 10 years ago and see what she gave people for Christmas presents,” she said.
Her granddaughter said Hunter adopted healthy living habits ahead of her time, shielding her skin from the sun and getting a weekly massage. She took up golf, but her preferred exercise was dancing.
“They were kind of head-turners on the dance floor,” Cornell said. “They sort of looked like professionals.”
Hunter gave detailed instructions for her departure from life. She specified “I Could Have Danced All Night” when people were seated in church, a bagpiper, and a pink casket. A private burial at Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis has been held. A celebration of life is planned for Sept. 24 at 9:30 a.m. at St. Stephen’s.
Besides Brellenthin, of Edina, and another daughter, Diane Hogan, of Vancouver, B.C., Hunter is survived by six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.