BY MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — May Irene Hovda had to wait 100 years for her birthday — 11/12/13 — to roll around again.
Hovda will celebrate the rare, special occasion with her family Tuesday at the Grand Traverse Pavilions. Her birthday wish: A Lady Baltimore Cake with pineapple filling and seven-minute icing, like the ones her mother used to make.
The centenarian was born on a Minnesota farm in 1913, the year the federal income tax was levied, the first sedan went on display, and the post office began parcel post deliveries.
“They didn’t have all those hospitals when I was born,” said Hovda, the oldest of four sisters spaced two years apart. “You were born where you lived.”
Hovda attended the one-room country school where her mother taught, and earned a trip to the Minnesota State Fair after winning a county spelling bee. Life at home was filled with reading, games, church, picnics and other outdoor activities.
“I was a boisterous person,” she said, recalling adventures like hiding from a bull that got loose, getting chilblains after sitting up front with the driver on a winter horse-and-buggy ride, and having to be rescued after climbing the ladder in the silo. “It was always loud where I was.”
One of her favorite times of year was Christmas. That’s when her father stood at the foot of the stairs and blew a horn to draw the family to the tree, decorated with lit candles in the Swedish tradition. Underneath were four small piles of presents, one for each daughter.
But perhaps her biggest adventure was one she didn’t recognize as such at the time.
“Charles Lindbergh had a farm north of hers and the girls used to hear a noise overhead and run out and say, ‘There’s that Lindbergh boy again,’” said Marilyn Sisk, Hovda’s daughter.
After moving with her family to Chicago, Hovda finished high school at 16 and gave up her dream of studying medicine to work at Marshall Fields department store. She sang soprano with the Marshall Fields Chorus.
Eventually she met George Hovda, a Norwegian, who proposed to her on a Chicago street car. The pair were married in 1932, had five children. and lived in rural Illinois and Michigan where George served as a Methodist minister.
After George died 22 years ago, Hovda lived alone in their Sturgis home until she was 90, even traveling to Sweden to trace her family roots and emigration records. Then she took turns living with her daughters. She’s been a resident of the Pavilions for the past three years.
Sisk said the secret to her mother’s longevity is her “strong faith and even stronger coffee.” Although she has vision loss from glaucoma and macular degeneration, Hovda’s health is generally good. She takes only one medication a day.
Family genes may help, too. Hovda’s two remaining sisters are 94 and 98.
Hovda calls the telephone the greatest invention during her lifetime and still recalls her party line ring: two shorts and a long.
“People would pick up and hear all the gossip of the neighborhood,” she said. “In those days you didn’t have to read a newspaper.”
As for modern society’s greatest ill, she cites the loss of community.
“We used to get together and be very friendly with each other. But when people got cars they went this way and that, and it kind of broke up our togetherness,” she said.
She marked her 100th birthday early with a July party at Sisk’s home. Some 20 friends and family came to wish her well. On Tuesday she’ll celebrate — and reminisce — again, with a grandson who’s flying from Seattle for the occasion.
“I like to remember way back when I had more fun,” she said.