Goinggood and strong at 99 years of age

Published on Thu, Feb 16, 2006
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Going good and strong at 99 years of age

By Tara Nelson

When Norma Kruse and her husband bought their beachfront property in west Blaine in 1947, Semiahmoo was covered in maple groves, visitors from Birch Bay came by a scow, or flat bottom boat, and people wondered why anyone would want to live there.

At first, the two would park up the hill and blaze a trail down to the beach to what started with a wood-sided tent where they – along with their children – would spend summers camping. A few years later, they upgraded to a small rustic cabin with no electricity, no phone and no running water. Each year, the couple added on to their cabin, eventually adding a well, and modern creature comforts such as electricity and a bathroom.

“We had to bring our own water in until we got a well, and when the tide came in, it would be salty,” said Kathleen Rightmire, of Birch Bay, Kruse’s daughter. “It’s up and down that hill getting water that got her muscles toned.”

Kruse’s family roots in Blaine trace back before Blaine was an established city. In 1884, at the age of four, her mother Roxie moved with her parents from Lehigh, Iowa. Her father, Paul Wolten, who was born in Stuttgart, Germany in 1872, moved here shortly after. They met and married in 1900. Wolten operated a grocery and hardware store in the late 1800s on Peace Portal Drive before it was eventually bought out by Brown and Cole grocery stores and moved to the shopping center on H Street.

In 1983, his grandson Jerry constructed and opened the Coast to Coast hardware store. Although the Coast to Coast business eventually merged with True Value hardware in the ‘90s, Jerry uses the same name.

“There’s no such thing as a Coast to Coast store anymore,” he said. “But everyone knows us as that so I just left the signs up.”

In 1934, Kruse (then Norma Wolten) married her husband William “Ikey” Kruse, a native of Kolding, Denmark who moved to Blaine with his parents Maria and Hans Kruse in 1921.

Ikey worked for more than 38 years with the Blaine fire department and served on city council for approximately nine years. He and his brother, Alfred, opened a uniform cleaning shop called Kruse and Kruse on the corner of Peace Portal Drive and H Street in his father’s tailor shop.
Looking back, Kruse believes the amount of regular physical activity from completing mundane tasks and chores helped her maintain an active lifestyle well into her golden years.

In fact, Kruse turned 99 this Feb. 16. When asked what she does to keep herself in such good health, Kruse said she walks a lot and keeps active both in the community and in her own life.

In addition to climbing up and down the steep stairs from her house to her driveway several times a day and going for walks on the beach, Kruse is an avid gardener, an active member of her church, does her own housework, drives herself to town and attends almost all home high school basketball games and some Seattle Sonics games. She’s a huge Luke Ridnour fan, a former Blaine high school basketball star who was recruited by the Sonics a few years ago and especially likes the high school girls’ basketball games – partly because she was not able to compete as a girl.

“I can’t walk if I sit too long,” she said. “In the summer, I’m up and down to the beach a dozen times a day.”

Her daughter, however, attributes her mother’s vitality to her strong mind and independent spirit, recalling a time when her mother was diagnosed with throat cancer 20 years ago, for example, and underwent seven weeks of treatment, five days a week every day in Bellingham. While her adult children were scrambling to figure out who would drive her on which days, Kruse decided she would just drive herself.

”We were all trying to divvy up who would take her and when and when we presented her with our plans, she said, ‘Well, I’ll just take myself,’” her daughter said. “After that, we wanted to tell her about some support meetings but when we mentioned they were on Monday nights, she thought driving back to Bellingham one more time was worse than the radiation treatment itself. When I told her the name of the class was ‘I can cope,’ she said, ‘I can’t cope with driving to Bellingham again.’”
Jerry agreed.

“The biggest contributor to her health is her independence and will,” he said, recalling a time when Kruse came into the hardware store and bought batteries flashlights so she could read in the event of a power outage. “Most people would be worried about what’s going on, what’s happening, she would just sit and read with a flashlight. She just thinks it’s what you have to do to get along.”