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At 100 and 105, two Lilydale sisters closer than ever
Siblings of first Eagan mayor celebrate birthdays jointly
Florence Polzin and Esther Rahn share a wall at Lilydale Senior Living in apartments that mirror one another. The sisters share meals together every day, and this week, they’ll share a title that none of their close relatives reached: centenarian.
Rahn turned 105 on June 1. Polzin hits 100 June 9.
Although more and more seniors are aging into the triple digits, the two sisters, whose brother happened to be the first mayor of Eagan in the 1970s, Herbert H. Polzin, continue to stand out in their community, as sisters advanced in age, advanced in mind and so engrained in the area’s history.
They’ve made quite an impression on former Lilydale mayor, Tom H. Swain, who frequently visits his wife at the senior housing complex and ends up sitting next to the sisters in the dining area.
“Not too many people reaching 100 have kept their wits together and are so with it,” says Swain, who will turn 93 on July 4. “They’re full of piss and vinegar. They still have it.”
Life early on
The farm where they were born and raised is now the Grand Oak Business Park on Blue Gentian Road in Eagan. Back then, it was “all farms,” Rahn says.
Early on, when there was “more freedom” and “less traffic,” their house had a woodburning stove and no icebox. They fetched water from a pump in the backyard, and did laundry in the basement with collected rainwater.
They didn’t have indoor plumbing until Rahn was 5 or 6, she says, and electricity came in around the time Polzin was confirmed in 1928, she guesses.
They walked more than a mile to a one-room schoolhouse at Lone Oak Road and Lexington Avenue South, where about 20 kids in grades one through eight were taught.
“The school still stands,” says Kathy Mommsen, Rahn’s only child, who’s in her 70s. “It’s now a house.”
When it snowed on a school or church day, their father would “hitch the horse up in the sleigh and come and get us,” Rahn says.
Every summer, itinerant travelers would camp in the woods behind their house for two weeks.
The sisters estimated on some of the details of their childhood, because back then, it was just life, not history they’d ever imagine sharing.
“When you’re young, you don’t pay much attention,” Rahn says.
Food from the farm
Rahn and Polzin recall butchering their own hogs and chickens and eating primarily food from the farm — fresh and canned.
Their dad would buy 100-pound bags of flour and sugar from the grocery store every once in a while for baking bread, cake, pie and biscuits. The family sold eggs and grew potatoes, sweet corn, watermelon, tomatoes and “quite a lot of strawberries,” Rahn recalls.
“We grew everything we ate,” the eldest sister says.
Rahn baked her own bread — “big, white loaves” — well into her 90s, she says. She would set the yeast the night before, and then mix in the rest, including water, flour and salt, kneading the dough until it just felt right.
“She felt what it should feel like,” Mommsen says.
Rahn married her husband, Helmuth, in 1941. They were approaching their 63rd wedding anniversary, when he passed away nearly eight years ago, she says.
Rahn went to business college for about six months, but never liked it.
“I didn’t want that kind of job,” she says.
She wasn’t sure which happy memories to highlight, apart from big neighborhood picnics in the summertime.
“I had no rough part of my life in my young days,” she says, except that her dad passed away when she was 24.
“Her life was all about her family, her home, her cooking and her church and her faith,” Mommsen says.
‘The grittiest, guttiest, strongest woman’
Polzin worked at Griggs Cooper, a company that made cookies and crackers, for more than 12 years, and at the department store Montgomery Ward’s for about 25 years.
A fond memory, she marched in the St. Paul Winter Carnival parade in 1948 with her Cooper co-workers.
She never married, and retired in 1978 at 62.
A story that tickled Swain during one meal at the complex where the sisters now live: Polzin decided to learn how to ride a bike after she retired.
“Not too many people can speak to that,” Swain says.
“I just decided it would be good for me; (it would be) handy for getting around a little bit,” Polzin says.
Even nearly 40 years later, Polzin’s gumption shines through, Swain says. She fell and broke her pelvis recently, yet she continues to get around with her walker.
“She’s the grittiest, guttiest, strongest woman,” Swain says. “She was determined to come out and eat (in the dining room), no matter how painful it was.”
A long life
Although they say they never put much thought to it, Polzin and Rahn attribute their longevity to a lifestyle they learned on the farm.
“All fresh food all the time,” Rahn says. “And a lot of hard work with it.”
Living on the farm also meant less stress.
“(We took) care of ourselves without having a boss all the time,” Polzin says. “We didn’t have to punch a clock every day.”
They also make their health and their faith priorities.
The sisters have belonged to the same Lutheran church their whole lives. The church, now in West St. Paul and called Crown of Life, has moved three times in the period they’ve been members.
Mommsen says her mother and aunt are private, not very sentimental people; they just keep moving forward.
“They don’t dwell on the past,” Mommsen says. “Some people live in the past, and they don’t.”
But breaking 100 is “unbelievable” to them both, they say, and it’s hard to describe what it’s like.
“I wouldn’t know how to explain it,” Rahn says. “It’s just unbelievable. I have all these years.”
“I never thought I’d reach this age,” Polzin says.
Remarkable age, remarkable relationship
The two sisters have always lived in the same area, but they seem to be closer than ever, according to Mommsen.
“The sisterly bond is amazingly strong,” she says. “I think more than they realize.”
When they’re apart, the sisters often ask how the other one is doing; they worry about each other, a tether between them that’s tightened over the years.
“It’s so engrained — the constant awareness of what the other is doing and what the other is needing,” Mommsen says.
Others marvel at their relationship, especially considering they’re 100 and 105.
“They look out for each other,” Swain says. “These are a pair of sisters who have been together I don’t know how long. It’s remarkable how they continue to be vibrant and hip with what’s going on.”
But for the two centenarian sisters, it just is what it is.
“We were always together,” Polzin says.
Kaitlyn Roby can be reached at 651-748-7815 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at twitter.com/KRobyNews.
Local fame in family
Florence Polzin and Esther Rahn’s father served on the Eagan town board.
Their brother, Herbert Polzin, in 1972 was elected as the first mayor of the Village of Eagan, and then from 1974 to 1978, he served two terms as mayor for the newly incorporated City of Eagan. He died in 1981.
Their grandfather built a home on Marie Avenue in the 1860s, between Delaware and Charleton. According to the family, the house is still there.
The house that Rahn and her late husband lived in for many decades also still stands on Lexington Avenue near the Eagan post office.
Sources: Family, Eagan Historical Trail Guide