Brainerd resident Millie Gjertson has traveled all 50 states in the past six decades and has done it all before she will turn the golden age of 90 this spring.
Gjertson made her final state destination in January when she and a friend traveled to Hawaii for 11 days.
“I thought I was never going to get to my 50th state,” said Gjertson. “I told that to one of my friends and she said I will go with you. So we went. I was so happy to get Hawaii off my bucket list ... I went on an Alaskan cruise for two weeks in 2011.”
Gjertson has visited all the 48 mainland states more than once with her late husband Wilfred “Scut” Gjertson over the years. Gjertson and her husband, who died in 2000 and never made it to Alaska or Hawaii, traveled by car most every year to different parts of the states since their honeymoon in June of 1946.
“He would have rather stayed home,” said Gjertson in her south Brainerd home. “I just told him that we were going. I had to push a little to get him going. But once we left for our destination he enjoyed it. I was the travel planner.”
Gjertson said her husband was a World War II veteran in the air force, and headquartered in the 340th Bomb Group. She said he was in charge of special service offices and worked with the physical training, recreation, education and entertainment. She said when he came home from being overseas, he told her “I will not leave the U.S. again.”
“I told him OK, but we will see the states,” she said.
Gjertson has documented all of her travels through the years in a book. By hand, she drew the map, with each state in either pen or pencil, and drew a line outlining the route in which they took each year. She would also color in the lakes or oceans and draw the mountains in her drawings. On the trips, they camped at national parks and when they got older they began staying in inexpensive hotels. They would have picnic lunches.
Gjertson said when she was in high school, she went with her parents, grandparents and cousins by train and visited a half of dozen states.
“We were all railroad guys and we could get passes for the train,” said Gjertson. “Traveling is in my blood and I wanted to see everything.”
Gjertson said for their two-week honeymoon in 1946, she and her husband traveled by car to the Badlands National Park in South Dakota, to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and visited Idaho.
“I thought this trip sounded romantic,” said Gjertson, on why she chose the trip for their honeymoon.
The Gjertsons traveled for a month in 1950 where they visited national parks in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York and Maine. They also visited seven Canadian provinces, on this trip. A few of the national parks they stopped at included Independence Dam State Park in Ohio, Sebago Lake State Park in Maine, Lake Erie State Park in New York and Niagara Falls on the New York and Canadian border.
The couple, who moved to Brainerd in 1952, took a break from traveling until 1975 as they were building a house and had other things going on. But starting in 1975, the couple traveled to different parts of the state twice a year for the next 21 years.
On average, the couple drove 4,500 miles per trip, but had travels up to 5,700 miles, such as in 1975 when they got back into gear with traveling. They left on Feb. 25, 1975, and they followed the Mississippi River down to the south to New Orleans, and then traveled through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nebraska, Iowa to back home.
“By this time we covered quite a bit of states,” said Gjertson.
Gjertson said of all the travels, their longest stay was in 1976 where they stayed in Tucson, Ariz. They traveled 4,203 miles on this trip, visiting about seven states, staying in Tucson for a week.
Their trips over the next few years included visits up the upper East Coast, Blue Ridge Mountains, the Florida loop, Natchez Trace Parkway and the Ozarks Mountain Country. The last state in the mainland that the couple visited was Rhode Island.
“I told my husband, how did we miss Rhode Island,” said Gjertson. “We went by the state many times, but always missed it. So we made sure we drove through it in 1996. We went there for our 50th wedding anniversary.”
In 1997, the last year the couple traveled there was a 20-day trip where they drove 3,871 miles through the Midwest states.
“I had a hip replacement after that so that ended our travels,” said Gjertson.
Gjertson said after her husband died in 2000, she went on a few trips with friends, including her first, solo trip where she flew to Delaware.
Her most memorable trip was to Hawaii and Alaska, as those were her last trips and because she thought she was never going to get to see those states.
Outside of her travels, Gjertson said she taught physical education at five elementary schools in Faribault and did secretarial work. Currently she volunteers with the RSVP program and at The Center. Her hobbies include hiking, bird identification, gardening, playing the piano, bowling, tennis, golf, sewing, knitting and crossword puzzles.
Gjertson said her next trip will be this spring and she plans to go to New Orleans for a river boat cruise.
“I can’t do what I used to but it’s nice to travel in groups,” said Gjertson. “Everyone is so helpful and nice.”