What does it take to live a long life? Pine County residents share some of their secrets to living a long, well-lived life.

April 14, 2017


Pine County currently ranks 67 out of the 87 counties in Minnesota for length of life. But for some Pine County seniors the phrase “you’re only as old as you feel” holds very true, and they are feeling great!

The Courier surveyed a number of senior citizens asking a variety of questions in categories such as coping mechanisms to daily routines to any secrets they have to living a long life. A large majority of participants credited their long life to their faith, along with exercise, eating healthy food such as oatmeal, seeing family members regularly, and not developing any harmful habits. 


For example, Hazel Vork, 97 years old, of Sandstone, had a routine of hiking four miles up the road six days a week (she would rest on Sunday) until she was 91. Hazel drove herself to the Courier office when asked to have her photo taken. 


Then there’s Lillian of Elderwood in Hinckley who is 100 and tries to eat healthy food such as oatmeal for breakfast but admits she likes her sweets. On the other hand, Maxine Tatting, 95, of Elderwood in Hinckley, says she eats bacon and eggs whenever she can. 


Amelia Ekstrand, 86, of Sandstone, makes her own grapenuts for breakfast. “I always eat a good breakfast and make my own grapenuts,” she said. Amelia added that having social contacts and lots of friends has helped her live well.


Harold Gustafson, 86, of Hinckley, has lived to be older than each of his parents and exercises at Anytime Fitness in Sandstone three times per week on the treadmill and stationary bike. He is a firm believer in eating three meals per day and thinks people eat far too much fast food these days. 


Mary Zajicek, 89, of Sandstone, tries to take a mile walk each day and says it’s important to keep yourself busy and go to the doctor when you need to. Evelyn Yocum, 83, of Sandstone, agrees and said that she used to exercise and that it is important for people to stay active. 


Helen Gustafson, 97, of Sandstone, typically has a couple cups of coffee along with a cookie each morning and tries to make several trips up and down her townhome’s hallway each day. She also does her own cooking, baking and cleaning.


Taking life as it comes is something Linda (Lindy) Rabe, 96, of Elderwood in Hinckley, recommends. She eats chicken noodle soup and likes to go bowling with the ladies.


Georgia Zeman, 87, of Elderwood in Hinckley, recommends people try to stay healthy and happy and that they try to get along with everyone. “It’s good to be a friendly person and have lots of friends,” she said.

Faith was the biggest common denominator among those surveyed. Orville Kassen, 93, of Elderwood in Hinckley, has always told himself that God is his copilot and that He will get him through in tough times. “I pray a lot still, and I always have prayed to God everyday,” said Orville. Millie Hansen, 94, of Elderwood in Hinckley, gave advice to young people that they won’t live forever and that they should start reading the Bible and going to church. 


Whether it’s advice or sharing what they have done in life, we can learn from those who have gone before us. The following individuals were surveyed and asked the following questions: name, age, where they have lived, what careers they have done in life, if they were married or unmarried, if they had children, what has gotten them through tough times, what is their secret to living a long life or living well, if they have any routines, and if they have any advice to give younger generations. 

Advice from the pros


Amelia Ekstrand, 86

Places lived: Born in North Dakota, lived in Iowa and Hinckley and now live in Sandstone.

Careers over your lifetime: I worked for Sears on their switchboard making announcements. I also worked at a bakery counter.

Married: Almost 33 years

Children: No children of my own except husband’s two children. I have two grandchildren and three great grandchildren that I enjoy. 

What has helped get you through tough times in life: The knowledge that God cares and that Christ is my savior. I enjoy reading the bible everyday. Family and friends are also important. 

Secret to living a long life and living well: Part of it is to have a positive attitude and take things as they come. There were 10 of us growing up, and now I only have one sister and three brothers living. My mother had a large garden for eating healthy food. I had three grandparents who lived to their late 90’s and an aunt who lived to 103. My dad had heart trouble and died at 79 and mom lived to 86 years.

Any routines: I always eat a good breakfast, and I make own grapenuts. I have also done painting and bake as well. I like to read. When I lived in a bigger apartment, I had a stationary bike. I still enjoy walking.

Advice to younger generations: Take care of your teeth. It’s good to have social contacts and be a friend and help others. It is also good to be with younger people. Being a Christian is good.


Harold Gustafson, 86

Places lived: Hinckley area but mostly lived in Brooklyn Center.

Careers over your lifetime:  Worked for Stewart lumber for 38 years in management then bought Lamperts in Hinckley and now my sons have it.

Married: Married 52 years

Children: Two boys and two girls 

What has helped get you through tough times in life: I look on the good side of everything except when my wife died 13 years ago and when I had a health problem in 1995  and went to Mayo clinic. But I came out of the health situation okay.

Secret to living a long life and living well:  Staying healthy. It’s important what you eat and do. Get plenty of exercise. I go to the fitness center three times per week. I go on the treadmill and on a bike. I do leg, shoulder and neck exercises. It is also important to have three meals per day. Breakfast is important. It might also be genetic. My mother lived to 81 and dad was 77. 

Any routines: I belong to the senior center and go there every day for meals. I make oatmeal for  breakfast. I also go to church.  

Advice to younger generations:  People eat way too much fast food these days. A little more exercise and less texting.


Helen Gustafson, 97

Places lived: Hinckley

Careers over your lifetime: Housekeeping, I got to live in a mansion in St. Paul

Married: 54 years

Children: Three girls and two boys

What has helped get you through tough times in life: Church and reading the Bible. 

Secret to living a long life and living well: Being active and walking a lot. I walk up and down the hall several times a day. I also clean my own apartment.

Any routines: I have a couple cups of coffee and cookie for breakfast, a good lunch and good supper. I like to cook. I do everything for myself.

Advice to younger generations: Keep active. 


Millie Hansen, 94

Places lived: Texas (14 years), Hinckley (37 years), and Sandstone (20 years). 

Careers over your lifetime: We were dairy farmers then went to cattle. Later I worked for the Cambridge state hospital for 20 years and then in Hinckley.

Married: Married for 65 years to husband Robert.

Children: Three children, Michael, Rodney and Donna. 

What has helped get you through tough times in life: I assume that it was the fact that we knew the Lord Jesus as our Savior. We took him as our Savior when we were first married. Also, I am a very outgoing person and assume that has helped. I liked to make friends everywhere I went.

Secret to living a long life and living well: I have an aunt that lived to 103 years. Most of the men in the family lived into their 90’s.

Any routines: I have to keep my mind active. I do a lot of crossword puzzles and color a lot. I try to go out to bingo and bowling and do most programs offered here. When I lived alone, I just got out to have coffee often and read a lot.

Advice to younger generations: The main thing is that they won't live forever here on earth, but they will live forever somewhere; we will go to a place of fire or to heaven. I would advise them to start reading the Bible and going to church now. People just believe that they'll die and that's it, but there will be weeping a gnashing of teeth for some. 


Orville Kassen, 93

Places lived: Born and raised in Cologne, MN

Careers over your lifetime: I worked for Deluxe chain printers for 33 years in St. Paul.

Married: 39 years to wife Elizabeth.

Children: Two boys and one girl. The youngest two live nearby.

What has helped get you through tough times in life: The good Lord in heaven. I pray a lot still, and I always have prayed to God everyday. I also took advice from older people and felt they were well grounded. I didn't ask too many questions and thought God is my pilot He'll get me through this.

Secret to living a long life and living well: I really don't have any secrets I just let the Lord handle every day and he knows the way. 

Any routines: I go to the exercise class when they have it here (at Elderwood). You got to move around. I am waiting for spring when I can get out and walk around.

Advice to younger generations: I told my kids to keep their nose clean and they'll live longer.

Lillian, 100 

Places lived: Southern Minnesota and in Hinckley/Sandstone area since 1966. 

Careers over your lifetime: We were farmers. I did a lot of driving tractors, milking cows, picking rock, and picking mustard. You name it, I probably did it. We had a farm near Sandstone.

Married: Over 50 years.

Children: Two boys.

What has helped get you through tough times in life:  Keep on fighting. I must say I appreciate all of my family very much: sons, daughter-in-laws, nieces, nephews. I appreciate my parents for taking me to church and teaching me about the Lord.

Secret to living a long life and living well: Must be the Lord's hand.

Any routines: Used to dance a lot. Old fashioned food like oatmeal for breakfast and home cooked food. I do like my sweets.

Advice to younger generations: Show respect. And we even need that in our politics when I hear about what's going on. We are always taught to respect different people. I was happy and took things as they came and accepted what was dished out. It would be nice if people visited more, but everyone's too busy to come and see me, but I understand. 


Linda (Lindy) Rabe, 96

Places lived: Hinckley 

Careers over your lifetime: Teacher 

Married: Married in 1940 to husband Walter

Children: Six children 

What has helped get you through tough times in life: Take the world as it comes. 

Secret to living a long life and living well: I had a sister that lived here, and we had a good life together. She passed away a few weeks ago. 

Any routines: I eat cereal and chicken noodle soup quite often. I also bowl with the ladies.

Advice to younger generations? Take life as comes and that's it.  

Maxine Tatting, 95

Places lived: St. Paul.

Careers over your lifetime: Worked for airlines remodeling B24’s.

Married: Widowed

Children: No children

What has helped get you through tough times in life: You just accept them and make the best of it. The prayers and having many people praying for me.

Secret to living a long life and living well: Whatever the good Lord gives me.

Any routines: I've tried to get in on the exercise we have here. You have to keep moving. I eat eggs and bacon mostly if I can or whatever they serve me here.

Advice to younger generations: Enjoy life as much as you can. I've never done too many crazy things. It’s good to keep busy, and after we got married, I worked serving coffee.


Hazel Vork (Wahlberg), 97

Places lived: I grew up at Grindstone Lake and went to a one room school. I had to stay home a couple years when buses weren’t running. My siblings stayed in town to go to school. I stayed home and helped my parents. 

Careers over your lifetime: I worked for a truck line and worked for a Sandstone bank as a bookkeeper and cashier. 

Married or not: Married for 49 years

Children: 3 children 

What has helped get you through tough times in life: My faith faith in the Lord. He has been my present all through my life. 

Secret to living a long life and living well: I haven’t had any bad habits like smoking or drinking. I look at the bright side of things I guess. It probably also depends on your DNA. Most of those in my family lived into their 90s. My dad was 81 and mother was 79 when they died. We had 11 children in the family, and I was in the middle.

Any routines: In the summer, I mow my lawn and shovel my walk when it snows in the winter. I used to hike four miles a day but had to quit that about six years ago. I always hiked with a friend, and we always stopped for a cup of coffee after. I did that every day except Sunday. I cook oatmeal every day. I also like soup and am making split pea soup today. 

Advice to younger generations: Mind your folks. Have faith in the Lord; it will help keep you on the straight and narrow. All my siblings gave me advice and watched out for me, and it was a blessing of having a large family. We didn't get into town and had enough people in the family to do what we wanted like play games. We all had chores to do and after the cows were all milked, we could take a dip in the lake. 


Evelyn Yocum, 83

Where have you lived? In sandstone out in the country mostly.

Careers over your lifetime: I worked for paper, and before I was married, worked in cities for advertising office at the Saturday Evening Post.

Married? Almost 50 years

Children? Five children.

What has helped get you through tough times in life: Church and friends have helped. I haven’t had any real catastrophes which I have been thankful for.

Secret to living a long life and living well: Just lucky I guess but recently had some health problems. My parents died at about 83 or so.

Any routines: I used to exercise. I did a lot of walking and went to curves.

Advice to younger generations: Exercise.

Mary Zajicek, 89

Places lived: Grindstone lake. We moved here in May of 1933.  It will be 83 years.

Careers over your lifetime: I was a teacher for 3rd and 4th grades. I taught at Cromwell for three years and then taught in Forest Lake.

Married: Never married

Children: none

What has helped get you through tough times in life: The Lord Jesus Christ has helped me when I needed someone.

Secret to living a long life and living well: I think just eating your veggies and just taking care of yourself. Go to doctor when you need to.

Any routines: I usually take a walk in the morning about 1 mile and try to keep busy with different things and like church and different things. 

Advice to younger generations: Try to do something good for someone each day and always have good thoughts, not dwelling on things you can’t change. Do the best you can with what you have. Love the Lord and love your neighbor.


Georgia Zeman, 87

Places lived: Hinckley

Careers over your lifetime: I taught second grade in Hinckley and retired when I was 60.

Married: 43 years to Glen who ran lumber yard in Hinckley

Children: Three Girls and three boys (Linda, Don and Larry)

What has helped get you through tough times in life: You just keep going and try your best. It was a tough time after my husband died, but you just accept it.

Secret to living a long life and living well: Try to keep happy. Having a lot of good friends and family has been good. We were close.

Any routines: I was always busy and took care of the grandkids. I subbed at the school after retirement and went to church. Visiting a lot of my friends has kept me active as well.

Advice to younger generations: Try to stay healthy and happy, and try to get along with everyone. Be a friendly person.


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