Qualityof Life for Mature Adults

Published on Thu, Feb 15, 2007
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Quality of Life for Mature Adults

Blaine woman celebrates 100th birthday

By Jack Kintner

Norma Wolten Kruse turns 100 on February 16, an occasion that will be marked with an open house at the Blaine Senior Center a week later on February 24.

A cancer survivor, she has no big secret for living a long life beyond doing “what you know you should do. Exercise, and no smoking, no drinking.”

She loves Blaine for the people who live here, and enthusiastically attends all kinds of civic celebrations such as the 1984 centennial events and the recent dedication of the boardwalk plazas and the Vigil bronze statue.

The petite grandmother of six and great-grandmother of seven has the posture and carriage of someone a generation younger, a kind face with big brown eyes and a quick easy smile. She is described by friends and family alike as energetic, independent and gregarious.

She is nonetheless a private person not given to a great deal of talk about herself or her accomplishments, and in that sense is very much a product of the turn-of-the-century age (roughly 1890 to 1914) in which she was born.

She is a gardener, known for her tuberous begonias and dahlias. She has plants she’s tended personally for over 50 years, storing the tubers over the winter and replanting them in the spring.

She’s a basketball fan who attends as many home games as she can when not medically sidetracked as she was this year.

She’s been an active and loyal member of the Blaine United Church of Christ Congregational “ever since they built their new building in 1910 down the block from where we lived,” Kruse said.

The large white house on the southeast corner of Third and Clark was built by her father of local old-growth fir that grew within or near the Blaine city limits, trees with trunks up to eight feet wide that stood up to twice as tall (200-plus) as the Semiahmoo water tower (102 feet).

The house is an important local example of the style characteristic of the decades before WWI, a boom time for Blaine when it became the third busiest port in Washington and was home to the largest salmon cannery in the world.

Design details such as the second-floor stained glass windows, a solarium that was used as a sewing room and its scale, appearing larger than it really is, are all touches of the so-called gilded age.

When new it had a picket fence around the yard, and in later years the old Blaine fire bell was buried upside down in the front yard and served as a planter.

Kruse had six energetic brothers who used to play baseball in the street. Her father had wisely ordered spares for every window in the house including the large curved dining room window that had been custom made in San Francisco.

The growing family moved into the showpiece home from a small house next door in 1913.

Six years earlier Kruse was born at home in the closing years of the Teddy Roosevelt administration, and next year will vote in her 20th presidential election, women having been granted the vote when she was 13. For several decades she was also a poll worker at city hall on election days.

She is the third of 10 children and is one of two surviving children of Paul and Roxie (Wilson) Wolten, along with her brother Gordon of Wrangle, Alaska. She lost two of her sisters last year, Leona Wolten Hawley and Alice Wolten Gardner, 101.

She remembers the flu pandemic of 1918 and the wide unpaved streets in a town bustling with shingle mills and salmon canneries, weekly concerts in the Lincoln Park bandstand and Blaine’s first cars – her father had the second one in town, a canvas-topped Franklin touring car with chain drive that was once stopped cold after hitting a stump in the middle of one of the early area roads.

“I remember them building the Peace Arch in the middle of a neighborhood in 1921, before they put in the park, and Queen Marie of Romania coming to its re-dedication in 1926,” Kruse said, “and the high school burning down one night in my senior year, 1925. But I had an alibi,” she joked, “because I was out babysitting.”

The high school classes met in the two local grade schools until a replacement high school was built at H and Mitchell streets.

Her family vacationed at Birch Bay in a Cottonwood Reach cabin that has changed little to this day, and as others did had their own private dock, a float that ran well out into the bay “until they outlawed them,” she said.

She married a friend’s older brother, a Danish immigrant named William “Ikey” Kruse, in 1934. They bought the house at 432 H Street, across from the post office, where they raised three children right next to the Cain Creek gully that ran through town.

In 1947 when Kruse turned 40 she and her husband bought property at Birch Point in a neighborhood that included a few other Blaine families like the Montforts, Vierecks, Easterlys and Stegemans.

Norma and Ikey Kruse built up their property slowly over time, beginning with raw land to building a tent for summer camping to a summer cottage to a permanent home where she still lives, close to where she can pursue a life-long hobby of hunting the beach for agates.

Her husband Ikey died in 1972, having served on the Blaine city council for nine years and as a volunteer fireman for almost 40 years.

When she was a young girl in Birch Bay, she said, “we used to walk the beach. Today, she still walks, and drives herself, and if you wish she’ll show you her extensive collection of agates picked off the beach at Birch Bay and Birch Point over the years.

An open house for Norma will be held Saturday, February 24 at the Blaine Senior Center from 2 to 4 p.m.