“My dad asked me to go to Hillcrest, so I went,” Minnie mumbled, starting to explain her Hillcrest experience as the oldest living person who attended. 3 strokes in her 106 years haven’t damaged her memory, easily reminiscing on a year at Hillcrest that set a solid foundation for her faithful life.
Minnie’s bags plopped down on Belmont avenue in Grand Forks, North Dakota in the fall of 1925. After the long trip to Lutheran Brethren Schools from her family’s farm in North Dakota, Minnie climbed the castle steps as a 16 year old.
Stomach ailments cut her time at Hillcrest short, but it didn’t keep her from building fond memories of a year in the Castle. “They called it a castle,” Minnie explained, leaning forward to add emphasis on her instructive time in Hillcrest’s classroom. “It was a beautiful home.”
Minnie’s year in the Castle was the final year before President E.M. Broen took leave to focus on an evangelistic ministry. Minnie was greatly impacted by the 67 year old father of what would become Hillcrest Lutheran Academy. “We called him daddy Broen,” Minnie noted. “He was taking care of us kids, so far from home.”
Broen’s position as father was a bridge for both Hillcrest students and his own family, calling all to rest in the grace of Jesus Christ. Following the martyr death of his son-in-law in China, Broen took special care of his daughter, Hannah. She noted the special guidance her father gave as she buried her husband. Broen’s guidance is documented in Hannah’s Book, The Bridge.
Broen’s figure as a father of the schools impacted the staff and students at Hillcrest to follow suit. During Minnie’s Christmas at Hillcrest illness and distance kept her from traveling home for the holidays. A friend’s family invited her to their farm in Minnesota. The care of her friend’s mother stayed her during a trying time. “I enjoyed being there since I couldn’t go home. If I would’ve went home I wouldn’t have went back,” Minnie said, leading the conversation to her battle with illness.
Minnie fought for her life from childhood through early adulthood. At the age of nine Minnie had a near death experience. Sitting in her bedroom connected to the dining room in her large childhood home, Minnie overheard the doctor tell her parents that she might soon die.
“I could see the devil coming across the floor for me,” Minnie started. Fear gripping her face as she recalled the memory of the incident. “He wanted to take my heart and put it in a box. I said no, and turned away from him.”
Minnie recalled a book, Mirror of the Heart: Casting out Sin and Satan. The book was Norwegian, written at the turn of the century. Her father saw her holding the book, looking at a picture of a heart with words written inside the heart. She told of an image in the wake of holding the book. “The room opened up where the dining room was, and there sat Jesus in the dining room with a whole bunch of angels. And oh, I was so happy!” Minnie’s foundational peace in Jesus propelled her to drink from the well of Bible training she received at Hillcrest 7 years later. “We studied the books in the Bible, it helped me a lot,” Minnie said, focusing on the training she received in one year at Hillcrest. She said the staff told them to study the scriptures the same way a cow chews her cud. An apt analogy for the midwest students.
In addition to Bible training, playing in the string band was another image that popped readily to Minnie’s mind. The group would travel to area churches in the modest bus Hillcrest used for tours. Weathered roads posed an obstacle for the band’s delicate instruments. “I played the harp,” Minnie noted, waving her hand in time with hymns she called from memory.
The impact of music and Bible training is reaping a heavenly harvest after Minnie's 106 years. The nursing home in Mohall, North Dakota was graced with her singing voice and Bible memory when she wheeled from room to room in encouragement. Time has taken its toll on Hillcrest’s oldest student, who now has her arm pressed tightly against her chest, a result of one of the strokes she survived. Her faith is expressed best now to those who visit her. Bible memory and hymns are readily on Minnie's lips, mixing with a bit of humor from time to time, "I imagine He (Jesus) is getting tired of hearing from me."
As our time together fades, so does the smile on Minnie's face and the twinkle in her eye. There is a bond Hillcrest students feel, even if there is 100 years separating their experience. Parting words are broken by a raising of Minnie’s hand as she emphasizes her thoughts on her time at Hillcrest’s campus in Grand Forks in 1925. “I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. It made a great impact on me.”