Zahn believed to be Minnesota’s most senior resident

Will turn 112 in April

Staff photo by Fritz Busch Erna Zahn of Oak Hills Living Center is believed to be the oldest person alive in Minnesota. She plans to celebrate her 112th birthday April 14, 2020. She attributes her longevity to saying her prayers and not skipping meals.

NEW ULM — Erna Zahn, 111 years old, would go outside and shovel snow in the winter time if she could.

Avid Journal readers may remember a newspaper photo of her shoveling snow about 50 years ago.

“Get out and shovel snow. It’s really good exercise,” Zahn said in the story. “Eat breakfast. It’s what keeps me going.”

She credits religion and diet for her longevity too.

“Say your prayers,” she said. “And don’t skip meals. I can’t complain.”

Dark chocolate and bananas were favorites of hers for much of her life.

Due to the recent death of the only Minnesota resident older than she was, Erna’s daughter Marley Kuckhahn of New Ulm said it is believed she is now the oldest resident in Minnesota.

“We follow it on line. She is now among the 66 oldest people in the world and 16th or 17th oldest in the United States,” Marley said.

Longevity runs int he family. Erna had a couple sisters who reached their late 90s. Her mother died at age 95 1/2.

At age 99, Erna rode a horse. She lived by herself in an apartment at age 109.

In her later years, she often asked if anyone in the area rents their horses to be ridden.

As a young girl, she enjoyed horseback riding, usually on Sunday afternoons. She would save her pennies and ride a horse for $1 an hour while growing up in rural Wisconsin.

Sewing and swimming were some of her other youthful interests.

At age eight, it was her responsibility to have dinner ready and light wick lanterns while her mother worked in the family-owned IGA general store in Pickett, Wis., a small village.

Erna’s father was a rural mail carrier, delivering mail in a horse and buggy.

“She went to a one-room school with 50 kids until the eighth-grade,” Kuckhahn said. “I remember her telling me how she rode a horse that plowed the family garden. They grew their own potatoes.”

Erna graduated from high school in Ripon, Wis., then attended business school in Ripon before working as a secretary for Giant Grip in Oshkosh. The company made iron products including tire chains and horseshoes, Marley said.

“Erna made our clothes, often from other old clothes,” Marley said.

One of her favorite family stories was riding in the rumble seat of a car from home to Mount Rushmore, S.D. while it was still under construction.

“She told me very little of the monument was done when she saw it. Just part of a face,” Marley said.

Oak Hills Living Center, where she now lives, is throwing a card party for Zahn, inviting people to send congratulatory cards to:

Oak Hills Living Center

Attn: Erna Zahn

1314 8th North St.

New Ulm, MN, 56073

Oak Hills is hoping she’ll get at least 111 cards


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