When Anna Stoehr was born in 1900, her family had no electricity or phone on their farm near Manning, Iowa. The Wright brothers’ first airplane flight and Henry Ford’s introduction of the Model T were still a few years away.
Still, Minnesota’s oldest resident was an enthusiastic user of technology right up until she died in her sleep Sunday at age 114.
When Stoehr had to lie about her age on Facebook because the social networking site wouldn’t let her enter a birth year before 1905, she fired off a letter to company founder Mark Zuckerberg saying, “I’m still here.” (Facebook sent her a basket of 114 flowers for her birthday on Oct. 15, according to her son, Harlan Stoehr.)
Stoehr also used an iPad to keep in touch with her many friends and family while living at a senior community in Plainview.
Friends and family members described Stoehr as remarkably sharp and active up until the end of her life, with a passion for baking bread, gardening, and playing Scrabble and other games with her visitors.
She relished her birthday parties and attracted many guests, maintaining an impeccable memory for their names, spouses and other details.
Stoehr prided herself on self-reliance, and was the oldest independently living person in the world until she moved from her longtime farmhouse in Potsdam last year into Green Prairie Place. Even there, she lived in her own apartment until a few falls this year led her to an assisted-living unit at the facility. She had lived on her own after her husband died in 1998.
As she gained more and more attention for being one of the state’s few supercentenarians, Stoehr brushed off questions about how she came to live so long.
“She always hated that question. Her take was she didn’t have anything to do with it — it was in God’s hands,” said Harlan Stoehr, who is 85.
Stoehr was the seventh-oldest American and the 12th-oldest person in the world as of September, according to the Gerontology Research Group.
She had five children — three of whom are still living — 27 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
When Stoehr was 11 months old, William McKinley was assassinated and Theodore Roosevelt took over the presidency. She lived through other extraordinary events in American history: the sinking of the Titanic, the granting of women’s right to vote, two world wars and the Great Depression, the civil rights movement, and massive advances in health care, computers, transportation and more.
Tremendous work ethic
During her lifetime, the U.S. population quadrupled from 76 million, and the farming that her family practiced since emigrating from Germany in the 1880s greatly receded as a dominant way of life for Americans.
Stoehr’s family lived briefly in South Dakota and Wisconsin before settling in southeastern Minnesota in 1919.
She lived on farms her whole life, milking cows, planting vegetables and flowers, canning peaches, sewing and doing needlepoint, always practicing a can-do attitude and a tremendous work ethic.
“Sometimes people say, ‘Well, you’re working too hard,’ ” Stoehr told the Star Tribune in 2012. “It’s not work if you like it. I like keeping busy, doing things. People can waste a lot of time fretting about things that are best left to the Lord.”
One time, a family member saw the light of her farmhouse on at 2 in the morning, stopped to check in on her and found her scrubbing the kitchen floor.
“She said, ‘I was awake anyway; I thought I might as well do something useful,” said Tom Miller, her former doctor and a family friend.
Miller said that Stoehr became a favorite of the medical staff at Olmsted Medical Center in Rochester and Plainview because of her “consistently delightful humor and positive attitude.”
“There was never a moment of crankiness,” he said. “She was never a grouchy old lady.”
In fact, Stoehr didn’t think of herself as an old woman.
Miller said that when he was treating her for a leg wound at age 112, she said: “I hope this heals up before I get old and gray.’”