Closing in on 100 years of living

by Joel Stottrup

Special to the Star News

Just months shy of 100, Esther Burroughs keeps her mind fit with puzzles and card games.

The aroma of beef stew took over much of the home of Esther Burroughs of Princeton as she talked about her life, which was just five months shy of a century when she was interviewed for this article.

Esther made the stew that was simmering in the kitchen, an example of her activeness for a woman who was born the month that Woodrow Wilson became president and the Mexican Revolution was going on. It was only two months after Esther’s birth on March 23, 1913, that Igor Sikorsky became the first to pilot a four-engine aircraft.

Esther has far outlived her late husband, Jim Burroughs, who died in 1978 at age 72. The couple met at the Elk Lake Ballroom, now gone, and had four children who are all still living. They are Jim Burroughs Jr., Mary Jean Olson, Robert Burroughs and Steven Burroughs. All but Robert live in the area. Esther also has 10 grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.

Esther was one of six children of John and Ellen Magney — five of those being daughters. The Magney girls would frequent the Zimmerman area Elk Lake Ballroom, which had roller skating and dancing. A lot of boys would go there to chase the Magney girls, said Esther’s son Jim as he talked about his mother’s life.


Esther’s profile

Olson calls Esther a “do-for” person, explaining that Esther was a person known for doing things for people, including making sure to put out coffee and food for her visitors.

“She’s got to do something for everybody,” Jean continued. “It’s the Swede in her … that everybody is fed, and she worries about people. You’ve got to learn not to tell her if you have a problem.”

A studio photo of Jim and Esther Burroughs with daughter, Mary Gean, and son, Jim Burroughs Jr.

Esther was born at her grandmother Mary Nyquist’s home in Zimmerman, where Mary, as a midwife, delivered Esther. Esther was to spend her growing-up years in a house that her father built on the southeast corner of the intersection of County Road 45 and the main street in Zimmerman.

Esther graduated from Elk River High School, son Jim saying that she graduated early, at age 16, because she was far ahead academically for her age. Olson says that Esther attended one year at Gustavus Adolphus College and married at age 19. Jim added that Esther also gained a secretarial degree from a business college in Minneapolis and used that skill as a bookkeeper at Mark Duffy’s hardware store in downtown Princeton for 10 years.

But Olson says that Esther worked before that, at Roos’ Restaurant and Bakery in the downtown.

Esther remembers her work at Duffy’s Hardware more than her job at the restaurant, noting that she also clerked at the hardware store. She said she liked her little cubbyhole of an office at Duffy’s Hardware, explaining that it was “nice and warm,” in contrast to the rest of the premises.

Her next job was working for the town’s Dr. Alfred Kapsner for 20 years. He had been a battlefield surgeon during World War II and came to Princeton after the war, said Jim. He added that Esther worked there until Kapsner’s death, and then worked one more year to help Kapsner’s wife, Marie, tie up loose ends in the business.

Esther later worked a short time for Kapsner Drug when it was owned and operated by Alfred Kapsner’s brother Alex.

Esther’s last job was at the Princeton municipal off-sale liquor store, which was then on the north side of the city. Esther says she worked there for 17 years, after which Esther retired, when she would have been about 70.

Jim notes that Esther’s husband worked a year for the Westman Silo company that was in Princeton, then a few years as a mechanic at the town’s Chevrolet garage, then became a Co-op Association bulk fuel driver for a time, before becoming an insurance agent. He also managed the credit union for a period.

The co-op would frequently have a dinner and fundraising event in which women would make a big box lunch and the men would bid on the boxes. The intrigue was that no one was told who had made a particular box lunch.

Esther doesn’t read much now, but during her reading days she liked romance novels and mysteries.

Esther, for enjoyment now, works hidden-word puzzles and plays rummy and cribbage. Jim says that when one of the pastors at Trinity Lutheran learned that Esther was a cribbage player, the pastor had her husband play cribbage with Esther and Esther won.

“I win now and then,” Esther said. “I play with grandchildren, and Jim, and church visitors, anybody who wants to play cards.”

“She was (once) in a whist club,” Jean added.

Besides book reading, Esther enjoyed dancing. Esther would dance at the many dance halls that existed decades ago in the Princeton area, and knew all the old dances, including the polka and the schottische, Jean noted.

“I had lots of energy then,” Esther said.

Esther still lives in her own home, but is visited daily by her children who live in the area. Esther says she loves living where she does, but misses having a grocery store close by, like when Freichels’ Super Valu was open near her home. She can’t walk around anymore, she says, so she has someone deliver her groceries.

Back to the stew cooking in Esther’s slow cooker on Oct. 23 — it is one of the indicators that cooking is another big source of enjoyment for Esther, as is baking.

“I like good food,” she said, as she explained why she continues making full meals like that.

Asked for stories about her cooking, Esther recalled one cooking mishap during a visit by her older sister Gladys and husband, Leo.

What happened was Esther made them an extremely salty cake, not realizing until too late that she had mixed up the sugar and salt in her measuring.

“That was the end of that,” Esther said about that cake.

Another reason Esther has continued baking and cooking, Olson said, is because Esther has to make sure she has something on hand to serve visitors.

Esther says she likes life now better than in the old days, explaining only that she is “comfortable.”

In the very old days in the home where Esther still lives and where she and her husband raised a family, the house was, for some years, heated by a big coal furnace in the basement and a small propane stove on the main floor. Jean remembers dressing in front of the little propane stove on cold days. Now the house is heated with natural gas.

Esther’s son Jim described Esther as a “super mom, a wonderful, loving  mother, always taking care of her kids. They (Esther and husband, Jim) both worked all their lives.”