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Clara Smerud (Mrs. Oscar)


Posted By: Errin Wilker (email)
Date: 1/17/2007 at 21:58:43

The family of Mrs. Oscar (Clara) Smerud gathered to celebrate her 90th birthday on Sunday, January 6, in New Albin at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church parlors. The 11:00 a.m. mass was celebrated by Father Linus Rasing. Three of Mrs. Smerud’s granddaughters, Mary Ellen Mohn, Louise Schnick and Anita Gage, sang, accompanied by Colleen Kasten on the guitar. Their selections were, “All I Ask of You,” “Prayer of St. Francis,” “Our Father,” “Only a Shadow,” “Let There Be Peace On Earth,” “Sing a New Song,” and a special blessing song for their grandmother.

A noon potluck dinner was held for the family with an open house following, which was attended by many friends and neighbors, in spite of the inclement weather.

Mrs. Smerud’s children who were present were: Sara Smerud, Mr. and Mrs. George Smerud and family, Mr. and Mrs. John Smerud and family, all of New Albin; Mrs. Walter (Margaretta) Keenan of Rawlings, Wyoming; Mr. and Mrs. Gene (Clara) Baal and family, Madison, Wisconsin; Mrs. Vangie McKenna, Clutier, Iowa; Mr. and Mrs. Donald Smerud and family, Dorchester, Iowa; Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Smerud, La Crosse, Wisconsin; and Jack Carroll and family, New Albin. Many other relatives attended, coming from Cedar Falls, Madison, Wisconsin Dells, Waterloo, La Crosse, Westby, Lansing, New Albin, Dorchester, Minneapolis, Rochester and Gilbertville.

Clara was born January 9, 1890, in French Creek Township, the youngest child of George and Christina Wild. She married Oscar Smerud and they farmed near New Albin for many years. They raised a family of eleven children.

~Allamakee Journal, Lansing, IA, Jan. 1980 (the black & white photo accompanied this article)


Almost 99, New Albin woman's still quite a card
When Cla­ra Smerud turns 99 on Monday, it'll mean just another quiet afternoon at the kitchen table playing euchre with her 71-year-old nephew.

Clara, a widow for 26 years and now New Albin's oldest resident, lives with her 74-year-old daughter, Sara.

But Clara and her nephew, Walter Wild, who lives nearby, have been play­ing cards almost every afternoon for the past eight years.

"At first she beat the dickens out of me," said Wild, who figures he is one game ahead of her. At least that was the tally on Friday afternoon.

Once he and Clara played a marathon game. They started playing euchre at 9 a.m and finished at 11 p.m. But usually it's only for three or four hours.

During their card games, Sara's Si­amese cat, Casper, likes to perch on the end of the kitchen table and watch the goings-on.

Squeaky the Second, their 16-year-old poodle, however, prefers snoozing on a living room couch.

At night the poodle sleeps at the foot of Grandma's bed.

"He's my bed partner," said the de­lightful, silver-haired lady with the mischievous blue eyes. "Pretty faith­ful. He sleeps at the foot of my bed every night."

From the kitchen table in a cor­ner of the room surrounded by windows, Walter, who's a bach­elor, can look out the window and see his little house across the street.

Behind Walter, Grandma Sme­rud's view out the window includ­es a stand of trees, just over the state line on a Minnesota farm about a quarter-mile away.

There, she and her husband, Oscar, farmed and raised 11 children.

Ten of her children are still liv­ing. She has 66 grandchildren, 108 great-grandchildren and eight great-great-grandchildren with another expected to arrive soon in Oregon.

She knows the names of all of her grandchildren. There were 74 but eight of them are deceased. Her photo albums are full of the grandchildren's photos - school pictures and wedding photos. Underneath each one, she has written the name down.

Dubbed Grandma New Albin by some of her grandchildren to dis­tinguish her from their other grandmother who lives in another town, the nickname stuck. Some of them address their cards and letters to her that way. She gets them.

On the window sill above Clara is a wooden knickknack someone gave her. It's a wooden greeting card. On the outside it reads: "How To Live To Be 100." Open it up and it continues: "Live to be 99 and then be VERY CARE­FUL."

Clara, a great-great-grand­mother who looks much younger than she is, has her own recipe for longevity. "Get plenty of sleep and eat some good old sauerk­raut."

That last bit of advice seems to cancel the first part out.

But not according to Clara and her daughter, who laughs as she agrees: "Eating sauerkraut won't hurt you any. I would say I fix it every couple of weeks with spareribs or wieners. Then we have it for a couple of days. We like that stuff you get in the deli."

Grandma Clara remembers making sauerkraut by the barrel on the farm and using a wooden stomper to stomp the sauerkraut down.

Her quiet 99th birthday at home on Monday will be a contrast to the wingding of a birthday party her family threw for her when she turned 95. Then they rented the Town Hall in this northeast­ern Iowa village of 609.

Friends, relatives and neigh­bors -- about 100 of them -- ­showed up for a potluck lunch, a piece of birthday cake and a chance to give Grandma Clara their birthday wishes in person.

After all, this soft-spoken lady with the soft, white curls and the sweet disposition has lived in these parts all of her life.

Luckily, all of Clara's relatives couldn't show up; the Town Hall just isn't big enough to hold them.

These days Grandma Smerud stays pretty close to home. When she was younger, though, she and her daughter used to spend sum­mers camping near Victory, on the Wisconsin side of the Missis­sippi.

"I had a 1-1/2-ton Chevy truck with a little redwood house, which Grandma and I made, on the back of it and we'd go camping," said Sara.

Grandma liked to go fishing, too.

"I've got a real cute picture of her when she was up in her 80's," Sara said. "She's catching fish in a stream up in the Big Horn Mountains of Montana. I swear they stocked the stream just before we got there because I left her fishing on the bank for a little while and when I came back she was pull­ing them in, one after the other!"

Several months ago, Grandma fell. Now she uses a walker to get around.

"She's tough," said Sara. "She had polio, you know. She spent a long time in St. Francis hospital." It paralyzed her right side for about a year but it couldn't lick Grandma, who was 35 at the time. She was determined to get better so she could work in the vegetable and flower gardens she loves. She did.

"She taught me so many things," said granddaughter Louise Schnick, who's manager of Washburn on the Park Apart­ments in La Crosse. "She taught me the necessity of humor. And that there's a lesson to be learned in everything that happens and there's a meaning for every tra­gedy, too. She never had to be flamboyant or loud. She was always very quiet and insightful. And deeply spiritual.

"She's a neat lady. I told her when she gets to be 100, we'd rent out part of the La Crosse Center for a party.

"She's determined to see 100, but she says she's ready to go anytime Pappy, her husband Oscar, wants her."

But on Monday, it'll be: "Deal the cards!" as Clara Smerud and Walter Wild sit down at the kitch­en table.

Source: La Crosse Tribune ~ 8 January 1989


The cele­bration for her 100th birthday will be Sunday, but Clara Smerud -- ­better known as "Grandma New Albin" -- may not be able to be there.

With more than 200 friends and relatives com­ing, some from out-of-state, the party will be held with or without Grand­ma. That's according to a granddaughter who's organizing it.

Clara Smerud's birthday is ac­tually Tuesday. She's the oldest resident of New Albin, a community of 609 where, except for the last few weeks, she's spent most of her life.

"She wants so badly to live to be 100 but she may only be able to make the open house for an hour or so," said the granddaughter, Louise Keenan-Schnick of La Crosse.

Then again, she may not make the party.

Grandma's so weak, Keenan-­Schnick added, she may not be able to ride from the Lansing nursing home she recently moved into, to the church in New Albin.

"If she can't make it, we'll just videotape the party and take it back to the nursing home to show to her," the granddaughter said. "She'd like that."

On Sunday the celebration will start with an 8:30 a.m. Mass in St. Joseph's Catholic Church. It's the same church where Clara wed Oscar Smerud 77 years ago. About 200 friends and relatives are expected at the 1 p.m. open house. in the church basement.

The past year was a rough one for Clara, who spent a few weeks in La Crosse Lutheran Hospital last fall. "She never really rallied after she received a pacemaker," said her granddaughter.

In October, doctors thought grandma might, not live more than a few hours. So out-of-town family members were contacted. Grandma, however, woke from a comatose sleep and announced: "I'd like some scrambled eggs."

And while she was in intensive care after she received her pace­maker, she opened her eyes and startled a nurse when she said: "I suppose this means I'm getting old."

Ten of Grandma's 11 children are living. And there are 80 grandchildren and 108 great­grandchildren. Four more great-­great-grandchildren were born during 1989 to bring the total of great-greats to 12.

When Grandma was 95, her rel­atives rented the town hall for the party which drew more than 100 relatives, friends and neighbors.

She was dubbed Grandma New Albin by some of her grand­children to distinguish her from their other grandmother who lives in another town. The nick­name stuck. Some of them address their cards and letters to her that way -- and she gets them.

Her 99th birthday at the home of her daughter, Sara, was a quiet affair. Grandma, a widow for 26 years, has spent most of that time living with her daughter. But the last couple of months she has been a resident of the Good Samaritan Home in Waukon until an opening occurred a couple of weeks ago in Thornton Manor, a nursing home in Lansing.

On her 99th birthday, when asked the secret of her longevity, Grandma smiled and said: "Get plenty of sleep and eat some good old sauerkraut." The good-na­tured, soft-spoken, silver-haired great-great grandmother with the sense of humor also liked to tell relatives: "It must be the Wild in me." (Her maiden name was Wild.)

The youngest of 12 children, she was delivered at home by her sister Rose, on an icy cold day be­fore her father, George, returned with the midwife.

She met Oscar at a dance in New Albin. He was 12 years older, and her Methodist family disapproved because he was Catholic. So they were married at 6 a.m. and then climbed up the hill on the outskirts of town. They sat up there for quite awhile, according to Keenan-Schnick, who will tell of Clara's life during Sunday's get-together.

While the trek up the hillside sounds romantic, there was more to it than that. "In reality she was afraid one of her brothers would beat him up," said Louise. Although Oscar died 26 years ago, their love story never ended.
"She still misses him and waits for him to come for her," added Louise. "And she still admires men with 'nice blue eyes like Oscar's."

Source: La Crosse Tribune ~ January 1990

Clara died 10 May 1990, 4 months after turning 100.

Click here to read Clara's obituary

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