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Cali Owings, Published December 29 2013

Dilworth woman celebrates 105 years of memories

DILWORTH - Traveling for the holidays in 1913 was a cold affair for Muriel Kaercher.

At 5 years old, she and her family used a bobsled to travel from Neche, N.D., less than a mile from the Canadian border, to a gathering at her aunt’s house. Her two grandmas shared a small wood warmer.

“But the rest of us froze,” Kaercher, who turned 105 on Sunday, said.

“It was a real ‘over the river and through the woods,’ ” Joan Pake, her daughter, said.

Muriel Kaercher celebrated her 105th year surrounded by five generations of family (the youngest of her line is just 9 months old) and friends throughout the day Sunday at Serenity Assisted Living in Dilworth.

“I’ve had a good life, that’s for sure,” she said.

Many of her memories are vestiges of a time long gone, from her days teaching in a single-room schoolhouse to her favorite movie stars Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, made famous before “talkies.”

She said the greatest change in all of her years was the adoption of electricity.

She recalled lamp-lighters turning on the gas-lit streetlamps while living in Minneapolis-St. Paul as a girl.

On Christmas Eve, her father would light candles on their tree with a bucket of water handy in case of fire.

Her family relocated to Neche after her father died. The log house had “one little bulb hanging.”

Growing up in Neche, there was only one car in town, and it was owned by the banker.

“He only drove it on special days,” her son, Richard Kaercher, said, recounting her stories.

The kids would strap wooden skis to their shoes and ski down snow-covered haystacks.

“There weren’t any hills there,” she said.

She graduated from high school in Neche and attended Mayville (N.D) State University.

She was a teacher in the St. Thomas area in northeast North Dakota before she married Howard Kaercher.

They relocated to the Fargo-Moorhead area to raise their family – Richard and Joan, born in 1941 and 1944, respectively.

Her husband managed a Gamble hardware store and she worked at J.C. Penney in downtown Fargo for many years before it moved to the West Acres mall.

She is a charter member of the Faith United Methodist Church on Fargo’s north side.

She lived on her own until she was 99 years old and moved to Serenity.

Now, a great-great-grandmother (with another fifth-generation baby on the way), Kaercher has two children, five grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.

Despite her 105 years, Kaercher is very healthy. Her wit is sharp, and she doesn’t ail from anything except age.

“It’s just very rare,” said Elaine Anderson, who owns the facility.

Her secret: no complaints, daily walking and a lot of faith.

Kaercher never drove and instead walked from her home in north Fargo to her job at J.C. Penney. In St. Thomas, she walked about 2 miles to her schoolhouse.

“I did a lot of walking,” she said.

At Serenity with Chirp (her pet bird), Kaercher rarely misses bingo and “puts the staff to shame” at Scrabble, Anderson said.

Richard Kaercher has long joked that his mother is a great procrastinator.

“I said ‘Mom, I know why you’re living so long. You’re putting it off.’ ”

“The key is not living until 105,” he said. “The key is enjoying the day to day, and she does.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599