Rose Bayuk was a feisty 5-footer who, at 104, still hosted near-weekly dinner parties for her large circle of family and friends.
The former Army nurse was a natural leader with a take-charge personality. And she served others all her life, taking on volunteer positions well into her 90s.
"Even into her early 100s, people were still asking Rose to lead things," explained her son, Mark Bayuk, who moved into his mother's White Bear Lake home to assist her just a few years ago.
Bayuk's pep was legendary — the source of a family joke about her having once received a transfusion of rabbit blood. In her 100s, Bayuk began working out at the local Y, where she amassed a new set of (younger) friends.
Strangers were often surprised to learn the stylish centenarian's age. "People would never even guess she was 80," Mark remarked.
Bayuk died Jan. 7, after a brief illness, 105 years after she was born Rose Marie Polga on a northern Minnesota homestead so remote she lacked a birth certificate. Bayuk was one of 10 children who grew up in tiny Buhl. She attended Kahler Hospital's School of Nursing in Rochester, where her diploma was signed by William and Charles Mayo.
A few years later, Bayuk joined the Army Nurse Corps, and made many transatlantic crossings on a hospital ship, bringing World War II's wounded to the United States. Even in her final years, Bayuk told stories from her service as if it were yesterday — and she still fit into her old uniform.
Upon discharge, she returned to Minnesota and married Edward Bayuk. She had a long career as a clinic nurse and director of a nursing home. In her 80s and 90s, Bayuk worked as a greeter at Tousley auto dealership.
One of Bayuk's nephews, Peter Polga, of St. Paul, lived with his aunt for several months when he was a college student and recalled how she acted as something of a concierge: introducing him to other young people, arranging carpools to class, and lining him up with a volunteer position. "She didn't want me sitting around," he said. "Sitting around was not part of what she did."
Polga and his wife, Kathy, assisted Bayuk with her annual tradition of batch-cooking ravioli and pasties that reflected her Italian and Iron Range heritage, to serve when she entertained. The moment they finished, she'd line up the next year's session. (The family book club tended to plan its meetings around Bayuk's schedule. "Her calendar always seemed to be the busiest," Kathy Polga said.)
Jo Emerson, White Bear Lake's mayor, met Bayuk more than a decade ago at the city's Women's Club and marveled at the curiosity she displayed for all sorts of subjects. Emerson said Bayuk had an intuition for people and knew how to boost morale. "She was so good at reading people," Emerson said. "She seemed to sense things."
When Bayuk was nearly 100, she traveled to Italy for a family wedding, holding court wherever she went. "You'd look at a crowd of people in the hotel lobby and there'd be Aunt Rose in the middle of it," Peter Polga said. At the reception, she danced until the very end. "She wore out more than one partner that evening," he said.
Mark attributed his mother's acuity and longevity to genetics and staying mentally and socially active, whether she was playing bridge or doing the New York Times crossword in ink. Bayuk often credited her interest in people and her penchant for learning, planning and looking ahead.
In a White Bear Press article about the car parade to celebrate her 105th birthday, Bayuk told the reporter, "Maybe God forgot me."
Or perhaps the opposite was true: Her zest for life was so memorable, it earned her extra time. "She always wanted to be the last one to leave the party," Mark remarked.
Bayuk is survived by her son, Mark, who is planning a memorial service at St. Mary of the Lake Church in White Bear Lake and burial at Fort Snelling later this year.