Minnesota woman on 111th birthday: 'Wow, I'm old!'

Minnesota’s oldest living person added another candle to her birthday cake Wednesday.

Evelyn Kleine turned 111 years old, making her one of just a handful of supercentenarians in the United States. A supercentenarian is a person who has lived to or passed their 110th birthday.

She was born July 11, 1907 in northeast Minnesota. She moved to Columbia Heights when she was 8 years old and has lived all over the country.

She now resides in Chandler Place, a community home in St. Anthony, a mere three miles from where she lived as a child. She is known around the home as “the supercentenarian,” and the woman who routinely wins at bingo and cribbage.

When told that she is 111 years old this year, she chuckled.

Evelyn Kleine greets Alison Ecklund, her great niece-in-law.
Evelyn Kleine greets Alison Ecklund, her great-niece-in-law, during her 111th birthday party. Evan Frost | MPR News

“Wow, I’m old!” she said.

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According to the Gerontology Research Group, which tracks supercentenarians, the worldest oldest living person is Chiyo Miyako, of Japan, who is 117. The U.S.-based group validates supercentenarians and keeps a list on its website of the oldest living people in the world, the majority of whom are women and Japanese.

Evelyn Kleine cuts into her birthday cake.
Evelyn Kleine cuts into her birthday cake with the help of great-niece Joanie Bixler-Anderson. Evan Frost | MPR News

Kleine has lived an independent life: she was married twice, but she outlived both her husbands, and she has no children. A seamstress by trade, she insisted on mending her own clothes, even on her 100th birthday.

“She wanted to do it right,” her great-niece, Joanie Bixler-Anderson, explained. “She continued to drive until she was 99 when she said her car gave out before she did.”

Indeed, Kleine is in superb shape for a supercentenarian — though she can only hear out of her right ear and her memory is not what it used to be — her mind is still sharp and her wit sharper.

“The old forgetter is working overtime,” she joked.

Kleine was asked by just about everyone what the secret to longevity was. She replied that she takes each day as it comes and that she does not smoke, drink or dance.

A birthday cake for Evelyn Kleine's 111th birthday.
A birthday cake for Evelyn Kleine’s 111th birthday sits on a table. Evan Frost | MPR News

“I didn’t dance,” she said. “Well, maybe I danced once or twice.”

“And what are we doing on Friday?” Bixler-Anderson asked her. “What do we always do on your birthday? Where do we go?”

Kleine’s eyes squinted behind her glasses for a moment, but when the answer came, they lit up.

“Red Lobster!” she exclaimed, as her great-niece and nephew nodded and laughed. “Red Lobster. I love lobster.”

Even at 111 years old, joy still came readily to Kleine’s face. And when she and Bixler-Anderson sang their favorite song together, cheek to cheek, that joy filled the room.

“I don’t know why I love you like I do. I don’t know why, I just do.”

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