Swanhild Anderson, pictured here in 2015, will celebrate her 107th birthday Oct. 9 with friends and family at her residence at Valleyview of Owatonna. (Press file photo)

OWATONNA — Residents at Valleyview of Owatonna may recognize local centenarian Swanhild Anderson, or “Swani,” by her singing voice.

In addition to frequently visiting with friends in the hallway outside her apartment, the soon-to-be 107-year-old often fills the building with song.

“Once she starts to sing, we’ll play some music for her,” says Sherri Longe, nurse manager at the assisted living complex. “When somebody is 106 and they start to sing, you’ve got to sing with them.”

Born in 1912, Anderson will celebrate her upcoming birthday on Oct. 9 with a special luncheon for family and neighbors at Valleyview. Although she has lived there for years now, getting to celebrate a centenarian is still a rare experience for the complex.

“I think she’s the only one that we’ve ever had,” says Longe. “Once you turn 100, you typically need more care than an assisted living can give you.”

Anderson’s daughter, Pat Willhite, attributes her mother’s longevity to her all-natural upbringing.

“Everything we ate was homegrown and no chemicals were put in anything,” she recalls, noting that many of her relatives have lived into their 80s and 90s.

Born in St. Paul, Anderson spent most of her life in the Cities, before moving down to Owatonna roughly 20 years ago to be closer to family. While she was rearing her children, she grew potatoes and lettuce in the backyard, and was an avid canner. Outside of the home, she taught elementary school across Minnesota and North Dakota.

Willhite says that the relationships her mother had with students and families outside the classroom helped her out at school. She noted that both of her parents lived through the Great Depression, when it was especially crucial to have a tight-knit community support system.

“Times were different and she grew up with that, where they knew one another and they cared for one another,” explains Willhite.

In addition to her career and success as a gardener, Anderson has been an avid reader and crafter nearly her entire life. “Growing up, if she had a book she would tell us to make our own lunch because she wasn’t going to put the book down,” says Willhite.

Along with reading, Anderson had a passion for stitching; her embroidery even took home first place at the Minnesota State Fair. Now, she loves to socialize with family, as well as neighbors and staff at Valleyview. In addition to nine grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and 18 great-great-grandchildren, Anderson has made a community of her own in her Owatonna home.

“She is always very kind and caring about the staff,” says Longe. “Just yesterday, I’d helped her with something and I helped her sit in her easy chair and she patted the place next to her. She wanted me to sit down with her.”

While residents will gather on Wednesday for Anderson’s special celebration, her presence is felt at Valleyview day in, day out. Ever social and feisty, according to Willhite, Anderson frequently sits in the hallway to chat with passersby. Longe adds that she walks down to the dining hall each night and socializes over meals, as well.

Sometimes, Anderson will even ask staff if they’d like any of her dinner.

“She’s still very happy and very kind,” says Longe.

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