• Virginia Moyer gave up driving recently but still gets up and down stairs and around her apartment unit
by Jim Boyle
Virginia Blanche Moyer decided last August at the age of 99 it was time to give up driving.
She hasn’t given up on life, however.
She celebrated her 100th birthday on Jan. 9. It wasn’t the kind of party with a cake and candles. She decided to hold off on a party until spring when its warmer outside.
She still had a stream of friends stop by to wish her happy birthday that week.
“She amazes me,” said Nellie Sachs, a longtime friend who stopped by with her husband Orie on the day before her birthday to deliver yellow long-stemmed baby roses.
Moyer continues to care for herself at her home of 23 years at Evans Meadows Apartments in Elk River. She walks without the use of a walker. She still has good eyesight. She still hears well. And her mental sharpness belies her age.
She received a card from the White House signed by President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, a momento that sits on her kitchen table with surprisingly few pill bottles.
Moyer gets by mostly with aspirin, water pills and vitamins. Probably her most serious ailment as an adult was corrected with a pacemaker. The widow, whose maiden name is Frank, loves to share stories of growing up on the 160-acre pig farm in Monticello, graduating from Buffalo High School in 1933 and being swept off her feet by Dwight Moyer, of Elk River, in 1935 at Camp Cozy in Elk River. She and Dwight married later that year and they grew old together until his death in 1986.
Over the years
Moyer developed a love of driving throughout the years.
She learned at the age of 14, when her father, William Frank, wanted his only child to learn to drive to help on the farm and run to town for parts when needed. He farmed alone, and when she could take the 1929 Oakland for errands, that made his life easier.
They lived a mile from a one-room school house that she attended during her younger years. She went to Buffalo for high school. She was one of 42 students from Buffalo High School in 1933.
She went on to St. Cloud Teachers College but did not complete the program. She met Dwight Moyer at a dance hall at in 1935. They did the waltz and the foxtrot together. They quickly fell in love and married that same year.
Moyer said she learned later in life her father made a trip to Elk River to investigate this fellow.
“I’m not sure who he approached,” she said, “but he passed.”
Dwight worked for Sherburne County as a surveyor and a draftsman before World War II.
Moyer said her husband never joined the service, but his skills were needed for the war effort. He ended up being released from his job at the county so he could help the United States prepare facilities for ammunitions production. He was even sent to Washington state to work on a facility that — unbeknownst to them — was used to prepare the atomic bomb that dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki to end World War II, Moyer said.
The centenarian said she had to stay back at first, but was later able to join her husband in Washington. She remembers the slow trip out there on capped or retreaded tires, which were the only option at the time, since the United States rationed the sale of new automotive tires.
“It took five days,” Moyer said. “We could only go 35 mph on those tires.”
One of the projects Dwight worked on had an 8-foot thick wall constructed.
“We didn’t know what it was for then,” Moyer recalled, noting it wasn’t until much later they learned of the historical significance of that project.
The couple came back to Minnesota after the war in a 1941 Chevy. She took a job at a hardware store in downtown Elk River, Moyer said, and when the owners of it made plans to move away, the Moyers were offered a good deal on the store owners’ home. They bought the Morton Street property off of Main Street in downtown Elk River for $8,600, Moyer said.
The couple’s early years together didn’t lend themselves to having a family, and they chose not to have children as the years wore on. They continued to dance upon their return to Minnesota, with good dance halls in the St. Michael Albertville area.
Virginia went on to work for Sherburne County for 18 years in bookkeeping, she said. She corrected herself saying: “You didn’t work for the county. You worked for five commissioners.”
Dwight returned to his job with the county after the war, but later took a job at Cretex in Elk River. The Moyers almost headed back west later in life, but John Bailey, Dwight’s boss, convinced them to stay.
“I’ll never forget,” Moyer said. “He came over to our house and said, ‘I hear you’re thinking of heading west.’”
Dwight explained that was true. Before he left, however, Bailey asked Dwight to meet him at his office later. It was there he convinced the Moyers to stay.
Virginia once convinced her “bosses” to let her have three weeks off, and the Moyers drove to Arizona for a vacation of a lifetime.
Dwight died in 1986, and Virginia stayed in their two-bedroom bungalow on Morton Street for another five years before becoming one of Evans Meadows’ first tenants.
The Elk River woman said she has always been a healthy person. She’s not sure what to credit, other than she never smoke, drank or lived frivolously. She said the Great Depression taught her how to spend a dollar.
She moves slower now but still gets around her apartment and, with help of friends, around town.
Moyer had given up driving on the highways a decade earlier, and last fall, a simple errand to the grocery store was beginning to make her tense.
“I thought if I get pulled over, the first thing they’re going to ask me for is my driver’s license,” she said. “They’d see the age and that would be it.”
Moyer didn’t want her perfect driving record blemished, or worse, to die in a crash.
She continues to do most everything else for herself in her apartment.
“She moves a little slower, but she’s still moving around on her own and she’s still sharp,” said Vivian Schmidt, a proud friend of the centenarian. “Her memory is amazing.”
Schmidt said she comes for Moyer’s smiles.
“She never grumbles or has a complaint,” she added.
Plans are in the works for a spring birthday party.