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Park Rapids treasure celebrates 100 years

Martha Vaerst. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Martha Vaerst waited until she'd attained just the right age of senior citizenship before moving into assisted living last July.

She was 99.

Sunday she returned to her hometown to celebrate her 100th birthday in near blizzard conditions. She and eight family members came up to Park Rapids the day before.

"It's great to be here," she said, looking around the parish hall at Trinity Church filled with food, well-wishers and a pastel birthday cake almost as large as its recipient, topped by two "Happy 50th birthday" balloons. Someone had written a plus sign on the top balloon.

Martha Wade Vaerst served as 2010 grand marshal at Park Rapids All School Reunion. The 1930 graduate is the school's oldest living alum.

She stood at her walker greeting everyone who came in from the sanctuary, posed for pictures, graciously received hugs and kisses, but exhibited a rare bit of temper when gift bags began arriving at her table.

"There were supposed to be no gifts," she mildly chided a guest.

"Well, we didn't spend any money on you," Dorothy Long quickly responded to laughs from both women.

"She was our first children's librarian," said Bella Sanders, a longtime Park Rapids Area Library volunteer.

"My mother was the librarian," Martha said. "I often worked with her. As children's librarian I got the whole sum of $10 a month."

For a high school senior, she was well paid.

She went on to spend a career in education.

"My boys said, 'My mother never got out of the fourth grade,'" she chuckled.

She retired in 1965 and never looked back.

"You couldn't get me to teach right now, not that anyone would want me," she laughed. "No, I got out at the right time."

Dozens attended her birthday reception. She was surrounded by one son (the other was having hip surgery and couldn't attend), grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Martha said she was touched that she received a birthday card from a former student "of 74 years ago. She was a special one."

Asked if she still keeps up with her students, she wryly observed, "There aren't many of them left."

"Isn't she something," said Dave DeHaut, eyes twinkling.

The party went on as the snow piled up. Martha now lives in the metro area.

"We're keeping our options open," grandson Wade Amundson said, when asked whether the group was heading back in the snowstorm.

But not a single family member would have cut the festivities short just to get Martha home. She was clearly in her element, a town treasure being doted on, sharp as a tack, and witty to boot.

She was having the time of her life. As it turned out, the weather lifted, the group got back to the Cities and they wrapped up the sheet cake to serve at Monday's party for Martha.

There was enough to feed another parish hall.

Let the next party begin!

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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