Sadie Tilberg

Sadie Tilberg recently celebrated her 100th birthday. Tilberg tells about how when she grew up, most life lessons were learned outside of books, and today advises her grandchildren to “take life as it comes.”

On Saturday, March 1, Sadie Tilberg celebrated her 100th birthday at the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Mora. It was a happy day for Sadie; more than 200 family members and friends attended to show her their love and appreciation.

“I’ve never felt like a popular or important person,” said Sadie, at her home a week later. “We’ve always been a very close family, always made a point of staying in touch and staying close. And I’ve made a lot of friends, many who have come to be like family.”

Sadie Carlson was born on Feb. 24, 1914, and grew up on a farm near Kerkhoven, in Swift County in Southwestern Minnesota. She was second oldest of five children, and the only sister. She remembers happy days, going to church in a horse-drawn sleigh in the winter, and later riding in the Model T Ford her father bought. “I go back to the horse-and-buggy days. I remember the surrey with the fringe on top.”

“My father was a farmer. Both he and my mother had grown up on farms. They made a good home for us. It was a hard life for them, but it was for everyone else, too. We didn’t know any different,” she said.

Sadie attended a country school outside of Kerkhoven. She said she enjoyed school, adding that she had to travel to the county seat to receive her diploma. “I learned most of my lessons outside of the books.”

After graduation, Sadie moved to the Twin Cities where she worked as a housekeeper. “I worked for wealthy people in their homes. It was hard work; I had to get up at 4 or 5:00 to get things ready for them in the morning. But I didn’t mind. I still like to set a pretty table.”

Eventually her travels brought her back to Northern Minnesota, where she met her soon-to-be husband Ernest Tilberg. After getting married they moved first to Willmar where he got a job at a Ford garage and Sadie worked preparing meals at the hospital. Then Ernie opened an auto body repair shop.

When World War II began, Ernest was drafted into the Army infantry, but because his skills were in essential work areas he was assigned to stay stateside and worked building airports, moving the pair around the country.

After the war, Ernest started a landscaping business in Willmar. Before long they had moved to Duluth, which Sadie remembers fondly. “We lived there 12 to 15 years. Those were the best days of my life. We had a nice home there, had good friends, and took in all the outdoor activities.”

Sadie began working in a clothing factory in Duluth. “I sewed zippers into baby clothing. I got pretty good at it.” They had a cabin on Boulder Lake, north of Duluth, where Ernest, Sadie, and their son Patrick (born in 1941) would spend weekends fishing and entertaining friends. “We all loved to fish. Ernie would go up there to hunt, too.”

Another move came along when the family relocated to St. Louis Park for more landscaping opportunities. Sadie’s sewing skills helped support the family. “I got a job in Minneapolis, sewing the brims onto ball caps. I got pretty good at that too. I enjoyed it.”

Unfortunately, Ernest was injured in a construction accident and was laid up for four years. When he was able to work again, the family moved to the small hobby farm north of Ogilvie where Sadie lives currently.

“I couldn’t believe what we had gotten into. It was a little box. But we worked hard, built on to it as we went, and made it into something.”

Sadie continued to work, this time at EPC in Mora. And she continued to entertain friends and family. “I’ve always had an open door. We made friends who came to be like family. Sometimes I’d have 30 people show up at once. You make the best of it – you carry on.”

Church has always been part of Sadie’s life. “I grew up in the Evangelical Free Church in Kerkhoven. We’d go to tent meetings to hear the fire-and-brimstone preachers. Sometimes I was too afraid to go to sleep at night... Nowadays I attend the Emmanuel Baptist Church in Mora.”

Sadie and Ernest lived on the hobby farm until the 90s, when Ernest was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. In January of 1995 he moved to a residential care facility in Cambridge, where Sadie would visit him daily until he passed away in 2000.

At age 100 Sadie continues to live at the hobby farm they built on to together. She stays active, keeps house, and drives, occasionally taking day trips to St. Cloud. “I like to visit with people, even those I don’t know. And I don’t have any trouble keeping my license. I’ve never had an accident.” she said proudly.

Sadie’s grandson Chris, his wife Sara, and their daughters Hannah and Haley live on the lower floor of the house. “I have nine grandkids and 15 great-grandkids,” she said. “We’re a good, close family. Nieces and nephews have all made a point to stay in touch.”

“My grandkids always tell me that they remember my advice: take life as it comes, and make the best of it. I like to be a happy person. I don’t judge people; there’s something good to be found in everyone. And I tell them: be careful what you say. You can ask someone for forgiveness, but you can’t ever take back a harsh word.”

Scott McKinney is a contributing sports writer for the Kanabec County Times and is the Operations Manager at KBEK Radio in Mora. For questions or comments about this article, contact scott_kbek@yahoo.com.