“I’ve never been this old before” is how Joe Skodje describes what it’s like to approach 100 years.
A World War II Army Air Corps veteran, a world traveler and a centenarian on March 30, Skodje has packed a lot of living into the past century.
A resident of Faribault Senior Living since 2018, Skodje spent 48 years — nearly half his life — in Clearwater, Florida. But at 97, he decided to move close to his son Kurt. Some of his favorite places in town have been Buckham West, Buckham Memorial Library, and Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, where he is now the oldest member.
In celebration of Skodje’s milestone birthday, the Faribault American Legion is hosting a vehicle parade with staging at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Central Park. The community is invited to participate in the parade and toast Skodje at the Legion afterward.
Skodje looks forward to celebrating with his three adult children: Carol Skodje Westervelt of White Coast, Virginia, Kurt of Faribault and Kristen Skodje Davies of Crofton, Maryland. It will be the first time the four of them come together since before the onset of COVID-19.
A lot of living
A first generation American on his dad’s side, Skodje’s parents were from North Dakota and Norway. He had two brothers — one older and one younger — and both died in their 70s. Skodje’s parents also died young — his mother at 40, and his dad at 62.
“I’m almost as old as my mom and dad combined when they died,” Skodje pointed out.
The day of the attack on Pearl Harbor was a memorable one for Skodje. To this day, he remembers going home to Fargo, North Dakota, from his cousins’ house to find a telegram waiting for him. The day was Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, and the telegram read “Report to the OQMC (Office of the Quartermaster General) in Washington, D.C. without delay!”
It was in Minneapolis where Skodje was accepted into the United States Air Force, which was then called the Army Air Corps. Training took him to Texas, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska and Indiana. Assigned to the 442 Troop Carrier Squadron, he flew in the Invasion of Holland. With his most prized plane, the Fairchild PT-19, he made his first solo flight June 9, 1942 at Arledge Field in Stamford, Texas.
Skodje married his wife, Helen Larson, Sept. 11, 1943 while stationed in Kansas. They had known each other since they were teenagers growing up in Fargo, where Helen’s dad was his Sunday school teacher. He still recalls everyone at the wedding hearing “Pistol Packin’ Mama” by Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters from the drinking establishment across the street, carrying through the open church windows.
“Not a lot of guys remember their wedding song, but I do,” Skodje said with a laugh.
After the war, Skodje earned his degree in engineering at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks. This made him the first in his family to receive a college diploma, he said. With that education under his belt, he landed a job as an engineer at Honeywell, first in Minneapolis and then in Clearwater, Florida. He and Helen moved there in 1960 with their children.
Growing up 10 minutes from the beach, Skodje Davies said her dad hated sand in the car. To solve this issue, he brought a pail along and filled it with water so all the passengers could soak their feet before stepping into the vehicle. He also installed his own safety belts in his convertible and waited to hear the same number of "clicks" as passengers before driving away.
One special memory for Davies is acting as clowns with her dad at Christmas parties when he was a member of the Honeywell Minnrig, an organization for longtime employees. Skodje remembers this too; he said his daughter rode a unicycle and he rode an adult tricycle.
Throughout their nearly 72 years of marriage, Skodje and Helen took trips nationally and internationally and cultivated their interests on a local level through numerous organizations like the Suncoast Lodge Sons of Norway and the De Norske Singers and Dancers.
Skodje’s apartment at Faribault Senior Living contains photographs, paintings, and relics of all types that give evidence to his long and adventurous life. A map of the world, hanging on his wall, is filled with pins that mark all of his travels, from his southernmost trip in Ushuaia, Argentina to his northernmost trip to Svalbard, an archipelago between Norway and the North Pole.
In his 100 years, Skodje can say he’s ridden on the back of an elephant in Thailand, sailed on the replica Viking ship the Saga Siglar, ziplined, flown in a hot air balloon and gone parasailing.
“I let [Helen] go first to see if it was safe,” Skodje recalls of parasailing. “She would do any of those things.
Said Kurt Skodje of his mom, who died in 2015: “She was competitive, and anything Dad would do, she would try to do it a little better.”
Reflecting on growing up, Kurt Skodje said, “Our parents always showed interest in what we were doing and gave us opportunities to do a lot of things. They let us find out what we liked and what we didn’t like.”
Through that process, Kurt discovered that he shared a lot of interests with his father, mainly photography and woodwork.
One special memory for Skodje Davies is acting as clowns with her dad at Christmas parties when he was a member of the Honeywell Minnrig, an organization for longtime employees. Skodje remembers this too; he said his daughter rode a unicycle and he rode an adult tricycle.
Skodje continued to try new things and accept opportunities himself into old age. Several years ago, he participated in Honor Flight Central Florida, which transports U.S. veterans to Washington, D.C. to see the memorials dedicated to their service.
Of that experience, he said, “That was probably one of the most memorable days of my life.”
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s found ways to stay occupied with a virtual bible study, lunch with a neighbor and playing bingo. He doesn’t actually like the game, he said, but he likes seeing people in person. For that reason, his children hope the birthday parade is a success.
Ruth McCormick has lived in Faribault almost her whole life, but at age 94, she’s preparing for a change of scenery.
Throughout her adulthood, McCormick has served on multiple boards, worked at the State Bank of Faribault for nearly three decades, helped start community projects and administered foundation funds.
But after outliving not only her husband but all her siblings, she’s ready to move near her son and daughter-in-law, Lloyd and Cynthia McCormick, in Duluth. She has two grandchildren, Patrick McCormick and Samantha Connolly, and a 6-year-old great-granddaughter, Solvei, awaiting her April 1 arrival.
“I’m now ready to move so I can have a few years with them,” McCormick said. “I will miss my Faribault church and many years in Faribault, but I am ready to move.”
A resident at Trails Edge, McCormick walks with a cane and considers herself “pretty mobile” as she is still able to drive. She holds up a card showing she has donated her body to the University of Minnesota-Duluth for education purposes.
“I’m very fortunate because I had all my sicknesses before 40,” McCormick said, recalling different surgeries she underwent many years ago.
Faribault through the years
McCormick was born June 23, 1926 at what was then St. Lucas Hospital in Faribault. The daughter of Frank and Lucy (Thatcher) Storch, she was the fourth of six children: two older brothers, Bill and Frank, and three sisters, Lucille, Shirley and Elaine.
McCormick’s brother Bill lived to age 97, so she joked, “I’m fighting against him.”
In 1945, McCormick married her husband, Lloyd Sr. The couple moved around to Florida, Arizona and Texas before they returned to Faribault in the 1950s, when McCormick’s father was having surgery.
While living in Faribault, McCormick worked at Nelson’s Super Value, a grocery store where Ace Hardware now sits. After the business moved across the street to what’s now Fareway Foods, she reported to the office to take grocery orders. Lloyd Sr. also worked for a grocery store that belonged to his father, and since he dealt with eczema and asthma, Ruth took a job at State Bank to acquire sick leave. In her 27 years of employment there, she worked her way up to assistant to the vice president.
While employed at State Bank, McCormick got to know one of her customers who also lived next door, on the corner of Second Avenue and Seventh Street. Her name was Hannah Lips. After Lips died, McCormick became president of the Hannah Lips Foundation, which started in 1979 as the first foundation in Faribault. To this day, the foundation gives grants to organizations involved in health, education and economic development. After 42 years on the Hannah Lips Foundation Board, McCormick retired this year.
“It was such a joy to be able to give in that way,” Ruth said. “We gave to schools, churches and the State Hospital.”
After her husband died at age 55, McCormick received a suggestion from then president of State Bank, Richard Carlander, who was also involved with the Hannah Lips Foundation. Someone from State Bank wanted to know if Faribault had a travel group.
“I said that would be wonderful as a widow because I didn’t like traveling alone,” McCormick recalls.
In 1984, McCormick took charge of planning trips for what was then called the Heritage Club. Hawaii was one of her favorite trips; the club traveled there at least seven times.
Throughout the years, McCormick served on multiple boards for different organizations. That includes the Senior Center Board, the Hospital Board, Rice County Historical Society Board and the local Athens Chapter Order of Eastern Star. She also served as United Way president in 1979.
McCormick was instrumental in starting the Clothes Closet, which has since been renamed Fashions on Central. Its profits support what is now Buckham West senior center.
McCormick’s efforts didn’t go unnoticed. In 2009, was named Outstanding Senior of the Year as recognition of her diverse and quality commitments to the community. She’s also won the Service to Mankind Award and was chosen as Rice County Citizen of the Year.
Ask McCormick about her fondest memories of Faribault, and her quick response is, “My church.”
She listed Carol Quail and Pat Rice as two of her close friends from English Lutheran Church; all three were involved in the WELCA (Women of the Evangelical Church of America) leadership group.
“We were active in so many things, and to this day it’s those women I call if I need anything because my family is not here,” McCormick said.
McCormick served on the church’s building committee when a steps project was underway. After her good friend Alice Oseid died in 2013, McCormick became the administrator of her estate, which helped fund the remodeling of the church’s kitchen and dining room.
Quail said the remodeled kitchen now meets state requirements with a new stove, steel countertops, a new sink, new flooring and an improved serving table.
Lefse-making at First English Lutheran became an activity of interest for McCormick. She recalls Gaylen Jensen, who owned the Lavender Inn, setting aside a day for a lutefisk dinner that attracted guests from the metro area who craved the Norwegian dish.
Recalling McCormick’s own cooking, Quail said her friend made a trademark confetti sandwich with ground Spam, mashed boiled eggs, carrots, onions and a dressing to hold it all together. Quail also remembers McCormick’s specialty soup made with carrots and broccoli.
“Ruth has been involved in the community with a lot of things,” Quail said. “I would say recently, she’s been very faithful to go to Buckham (West) to play cards with friends for a long time until they had to close down [during COVID-19]. She had those friends and church friends who will miss her.”
After months of preparation and years of anticipation, a rapidly growing hot sauce manufacturer is close to opening in downtown Faribault. And its already building up goodwill in the community.
Dana Jokela of Sogn Valley Farms, an organic vegetable farm located in Goodhue County’s rural Warsaw Township, was just days from harvest when the farm was struck by a hail storm. Within minutes, Jokela realized that much of his crop had been badly damaged. Among the hardest hit vegetables were the peppers, of both sweet and hot varieties. The morning after the storm, Jokela called all his customers to tell them that he would be well short of what he had expected to provide.
Cry Baby Craig’s chef and co-owner Craig Kaiser had a contract with Jokela to produce 15,000 pounds of peppers and was stunned to hear of the widespread damage. He drove out to the farm to survey the damage and offered to purchase salvageable peppers for a new sauce.
“When I drove out to his farm to see all that had happened, I was stunned,” he said. “I didn’t want him to fail, and I wanted our partnership to grow.”
The purchase included not only the habaneros that are the mainstay of Cry Baby Craig’s sauce, but four other varieties. Jokela noted that the distributor he had a contract with for many of the sweet peppers couldn’t accept damaged peppers, so Kaiser did instead.
The resulting sauce, called Hailfire, features a unique blend of sweet and spicy flavors. Kaiser then entered into an agreement with Twin Cities area grocer Lunds & Byerlys to sell 500 cases of it on one condition, that all proceeds go to Sogn Valley. Kaiser said that by having an exclusive partnership with one distributor, overhead costs were minimized. Cry Baby Craig’s is also declining to take anything beyond what is necessary to cover packaging and labor costs.
The product has been well promoted and popular, with approximately 450 of those cases already sold. Jokela expressed gratitude to Cry Baby Craig’s for helping to lift him up when his business was in an extremely difficult place.
“We feel pretty blessed to be working with Cry Baby Craig’s,” he said. “It feels good to be able to build up these local relationships.”
Feel the burn
While no formal date has yet been set, Kaiser is optimistic that the business’s new headquarters at 405 Central Ave., formerly home to the B&B Sporting Goods store, will be ready to open this spring.
Cry Baby Craig’s purchased the building last July, giving the business its own property after a more than year-long relationship with prominent downtown landlord went sour. Kaiser expressed both relief and a sense of excitement when he was able to purchase the building Not only will he be able to control his own destiny as the building’s owner, but the building is five times the size of what he’d been planning to rent just up the street.
Because it’s so much larger, Kaiser has said that 405 Central Ave. will continue to serve as the headquarters of Cry Baby Craig’s even if the business outgrows it. The building will have both a production area in the back and a storefront selling sauce and souvenirs.
Once open, the Cry Baby Craig’s storefront is expected to become one of downtown Faribault’s leading attractions. Developed less than a decade ago, the sauce quickly became a hit and can now be found at hundreds of stores and restaurants throughout the region. Kaiser began making the sauce with pickled habanero peppers and garlic after his restaurant accidentally received habaneros instead of jalapenos. Thanks to the company’s unique cold process method, the manufacturing process doesn’t produce a decipherable smell.
The project has been backed by the State Bank of Faribault, which loaned the company $250,000, the Faribault Economic Development Authority, which has provided nearly $100,000, and the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, which chipped in $50,000.
Upon purchasing the building, Kaiser wasted no time meeting with architects as he looked to redesign the interior. Among the most needed add-ons was a loading dock, which secured the required approval from the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission last year.
Once the move is complete, Cry Baby Craig’s will have new bottling equipment enabling it to dramatically scale up production. Yet while renovations have been ongoing, Cry Baby Craig’s has been forced to rely on a significant backlog of built up inventory.