Tomorrow Mom’s oldest living brother, Uncle Leo, turns 90. Not an unusual feat in their long-lived family. What is unusual is that Uncle Leo lives on the Pipestone County farm his parents bought and moved to in the late 1920s, and he’s lived there ever since.
Except for two historic exceptions. The first came after he was crowned Pipestone County Health King* after which he traveled to the Minnesota State Fair to compete in the State Health King competition. He won that competition, too, which qualified him to compete in the national competition at the Chicago World’s Fair, but his father put the kibosh on the trip.
But, Leo saw the world a few years later during World War 2. He served in the European theater where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He was well into his 70s before he finally started talking and shared the horrific things he experienced in Germany.
When the war ended, Leo returned to the farm, where he raised five children, corn, soybeans, milk cows, pigs, and a huge vegetable garden – with the help of his parents. After their health failed in the 70s and 80s and his children grew up and moved away, Leo kept farming. Probably well beyond when he should have turned things over to someone younger. But that’s not easy for most men, especially health kings and soldiers, to do.
So he kept farming until he absolutely couldn’t anymore. But he still lives on the farm. He still loves to read. He still loves to study history and maps. He still recognizes and remembers the names of his nieces and nephews – all 30+ of them. He still cries when he talks about the Battle of the Bulge. He still makes it to family reunions.
And still, when he smiles and the dashing young man he once was peeks past his grin, it’s easy to understand why Uncle Leo was crowned Minnesota State Health King over 70 years ago. It’s easy to see why he’s reached the age of 90 in relatively good health. And it will be a joy for those who love him to wish him a happy birthday and many more on August 18, 2012.
Happy 90th birthday, Uncle Leo. Long live the king!
*I am not making this up. In the 1920s and 1930s, each county’s health nurse went to all the elementary schools to weigh, measure, and otherwise assess the health of all the students. A boy and girl in each county were christened County Health King and Princess. I know this because a few years after Leo’s brush with the royal life, Mom was crowned Pipestone County Health Princess. Which means that the sibs and I are descended from royalty. Next time you see me, feel free to bow or curtsey.