North St. Paul woman witnesses 103 years of local history


submitted photos • A lifelong passion for gardening began when 103-year-old Josephine Zeug was a girl working on her parent’s farm in Little Canada. After marrying and moving to North St. Paul, she continued gardening both on her own property on Margaret Street and on her parents new property down the road. She’s seen in her garden in the early 2000s.

Josephine Zeug, affectionately called “Flower Lady” by her son, John, has been a passionate gardener throughout her life. After she became a centenarian, Zeug allowed her other son, James, to take over management of her gardens, though she still enjoys sitting with him as he works.

Although she is most often recognized for nurturing her plants, Josephine Zeug also worked as a housewife, nurturing her family. Out of her garden bloomed two sons — James, left, and John, right, as seen decades ago.

Granddaughter, Janel.

Josephine Zeug, who is likely the oldest person in North St. Paul, celebrated her 103rd birthday with cake and ice cream at home with her two sons and her granddaughter on Jan. 20. 

So far in her lifetime, Zeug has experienced many life-changing advances in technology and watched North St. Paul transform from farmland to a first-ring suburb.

Although she spent most of her adult life in North St. Paul, Zeug was born on the East Side of St. Paul in 1915, just five days before a celebration of the first transcontinental phone call.

It was a time before sliced bread was available in stores and before women had the right to vote. Although it was the second year of World War I, the United States had not yet joined the fight. 

When Zeug was 9 years old, her father, Italian immigrant Pasquale Campanaro, lost his job with the Northern Pacific Railroad, according to the historic account written by Gertrude Bougie in “Little Canada — A Voyagers Vision.” As a result, Campanaro moved his wife, Martha, and children to a 17-acre farm in New Canada in 1924; the area would later become part of the village and, eventually, the city of Little Canada.

Bougie’s account of the family’s history notes the move to the farm was a hardship for the Campanaros because unlike their St. Paul home, this one had no running water and no electricity. 

The family farmed vegetables and used horses and a wagon to haul them to the St. Paul city market. In 1926 the family purchased a Ford Model T truck, which helped with the endeavor.

 

The ‘Flower Lady’

Despite the hardship this lifestyle presented, Zeug’s time on her family’s farm was the beginning of a lifelong passion for gardening. As an adult, she was twice awarded North St. Paul’s “Take Pride Award” for the beautiful gardens on her property.

“She grew flowers everywhere all around the house, in the front and in the back,” Zeug’s son, John Zeug, remembered of his childhood. 

“She spent a majority of her time in the garden every day,” he added, explaining how she got the affectionate nickname, “Flower Lady.”

John added with a chuckle that the soil is what he thinks has kept her alive so long, along with her strong work ethic. He said that she continued rototilling her garden up until she was 99 years old, both starting and operating the machine herself, and in the winter she was one of the few Minnesotans who loved to shovel.

Although she gave up the labor of gardening around her 100th birthday, Zeug still enjoys spending time in the gardens that her other son, James Zeug, now tends.

 

Times of change

Zeug married in 1941, the same year the U.S. joined World War II. By 1946, she and her husband Joseph purchased a home in North St. Paul where they would raise their two boys.

According to Rosemary Palmer’s “A Century of Good Living: North St. Paul,” the Zeugs moved to North St. Paul at the beginning of a post-war population boom that demanded new streets and expanded utilities, making village government a “full time venture” for the first time.

The house the Zeugs purchased came with five acres of land, which they eventually divided into 20 lots and sold. Zeug’s parents, whose Little Canada farm was purchased in 1955 to build the Interstate 35E and Interstate 694 interchange, built a house on one of those lots. Zeug and John live in that home today.

James, who lives in the Zeug’s original North St. Paul house, noted that in addition to all of the gardening his mother did at her own home, she also helped her father with his garden after her parents built their house down the street.

“They had their own garden in the back, the two of them,” James said of his mother and grandfather. “She kept very busy.”

John and James remember walking with their mother to church along Margaret Street, which at the time was nothing more than a dirt road, they said. The house they grew up in was surrounded by pasture. The southern portion of Margaret Street concluded at a dead end because Holloway Avenue hadn’t been built yet.

The brothers, now both in their 70s, also remember riding in the streetcar with their mother from what is now North St. Paul's Seppala Boulevard into St. Paul. 

“We would ride down and see her girlfriend Myrtle,” John said, adding that Zeug would also travel by streetcar every Saturday to get her hair fixed in downtown St. Paul.

Now, the streetcar is long gone and the roads have all been paved. 

Most of the neighborhood’s older families are gone, but Zeug remains spry — surprisingly not even needing glasses or a cane.

The world has been transformed in the century since 1915, and perhaps this is why Zeug, a woman of few words, now enjoys taking time for simple things, like sitting in the garden or watching the hustle and bustle of North St. Paul from the front window of her home.

 


– Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651- 748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com.

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