LAKE HUBERT -- Dressed in a royal blue satin gown, Emma Kletschka thought she was simply going out to dinner with her children Saturday to celebrate her 100th birthday.
Instead, Emma was treated like a queen Saturday -- complete with her own tiara -- at a surprise birthday party hosted by family and friends at the Quarterdeck in Fairview Township. Her throne was a large chair decorated in lights and ivy. She also received a blessing by Father George Zeck during Mass at St. Andrew's Catholic Church in Brainerd after the party.
It wasn't the first time Emma was treated like royalty. She was once crowned "Queen for the day" at a Minnesota Twins game.
Emma doesn't consider her century-long life history to be very interesting. Yet in her 100 years she has witnessed the history of the Brainerd lakes area unfold since 1926. She grew up on the prairie in what was then Oklahoma Territory and raised four children.
Emma Kletschka, needless to say, loves sitting in her Lake Hubert home and watching the activity on the lake. "I can watch the boats and the people swimming. This is heaven to me."
Her son, Dr. Harold Kletschka, is a cardiac surgeon in Minneapolis who helped develop the Bio-Pump, an open heart surgery machine that takes over for the heart during the surgery and is the most widely used on the market. He came up with the idea for the pump in 1957 and he and a partner marketed it in 1975. He later sold the patent to Medtronic, Inc. He's now working on an artificial heart and an angioplasty device that just may revolutionize the procedure.
"I've done nothing exciting," said Emma with a laugh. "I'm just a common everyday work girl."
Growing up on Lake Hubert, Dr. Harold Kletschka (left) and his sister, Barbara Kletschka (right), remembered how their mother, Emma Kletschka, mowed the yard and garden in high heels and a dress. Emma is 100 and still likes to garden and bake cookies.
Emma was born Nov. 3, 1901, in Darrow, a frontier city in the Oklahoma Territory. The town no longer exists. She was the youngest of 10 children born to David and Katherine Kopf. Her mother died during childbirth when she was 2, and her father, left to raise 10 children alone, had to farm out his children to family members.
When Emma was 8, her father married Emma Seitz. Her stepmother died during childbirth and was buried on Emma's ninth birthday. The children were once again sent to live with relatives.
Her father got a job at Billings Ranch in Roswell, N.M., and Emma, then 16, moved with her father to the ranch. She performed odd jobs, cooked and baked bread for 23 ranch hands. The following year she was hired at the Bankhead Hotel in Roswell as a waitress, often working 12-15 hours a day. At 18, she looked through a hotel window and noticed a man standing outside. Emma told a co-worker that he was the man she was going to marry someday.
After that, Herb Kletschka often picked her table to eat at in the hotel. She did, in fact, marry the man she saw standing outside the hotel.
The couple got married and moved to Denver for a few years before moving to Minnesota where her husband had relatives. His mother and stepfather, Alzada and Jacob Ressler, owned the Pukwana Lodge on Lake Hubert. The Kletschkas bought an old two-story house on Lake Hubert on May 15, 1926. In 1953, they tore down the house and built another home. Starting in 1935, they built three cabins nearby that they rented out as Kletschka's Modern Lake Homes.
So for 75 years, Emma Kletschka has called Lake Hubert home. When she arrived in Lake Hubert, it was a hub of activity. The Lake Hubert Train depot was just a short walk away, and it was a fun place for her to bring her four children to watch the hustle and bustle of the tourists as they came and went by train. They often stopped at the Lake Hubert store and the post office along the way.
There was much more activity on Lake Hubert during the summer than there is now, she said. Most people fished because they needed the food for their tables. The lake was clearer back then, too, she recalled. Emma often made lemonade and nectar from lake water and used ice that had been harvested from Lake Hubert that winter and stored in icehouses.
"I wasn't used to living on a lake so this was paradise," said Emma. "There was a lot of work to be done here, which I enjoyed."
Emma often did her yardwork, gardening and even mowing wearing high heels and a dress, said her son, Harold. He and his sister, Barbara Kletschka, now care for their mother and share their time between their home in Minneapolis and the Lake Hubert home. Their two sisters are Virginia Ross, Lake Hubert, and Marjorie Peterson, Brainerd.
Emma's husband died in 1960 and eventually Emma sold her three cabins, the last one was sold in 1969.
At 4 feet, 10 inches and a few days past her 100th birthday, Emma remains active with a quick wit and positive attitude toward life. She loves to play solitaire and continues to play yard games with her family during the Fourth of July. She has seven grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She still bakes cookies and even likes to mow the lawn and rake leaves. Two years ago she was an honorary bridesmaid at her great-granddaughter's wedding.
"She still takes care of us," said Harold with a good-natured laugh.
Emma, needless to say, loves sitting in her Lake Hubert home and watching the activity on the lake.
"I can watch the boats and the people swimming," she said. "This is heaven to me."
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