July 20, 2013
Duluth News Tribune
Once Denfeld classmates, three women are marking a century
By John Lundy
It was a hundred times three at a Hermantown assisted-living facility on Saturday.
Helen Moland was celebrating her 100th birthday with family and friends in the great room at Edgewood Vista.
But she wasn’t the only guest of honor. She was joined by Bernice Moore, who also lives in Edgewood Vista and turned 100 on May 8; and by Eunice Erceg, who lives at ViewcrestHealthCenter in Duluth and turned 100 on June 23.
But wait, there’s more: All three are members of the Denfeld High School Class of 1931.
If it seems to you that there are more centenarians around than there used to be, you’re right. The number of Americans 100 or older grew by 65.8 percent between 1980 and 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau reported.
Still, reaching the century mark remains a noteworthy achievement. The entire state of Minnesota had only 1,211 centenarians in 2010, the Census Bureau said. Nationwide, only 1.7 out of every 10,000 people were 100 or older. Apply that percentage to Duluth’s 2010 population of 86,265, and you’d expect to have 14 or 15 centenarians.
So it seems safe to say that having three 100-year-olds from the same high school class together for a party is at least an uncommon occurrence.
Of the three, Moland and Erceg had the closest ties. They were best friends going back to second grade, or possibly kindergarten, depending on which family member one talked to. Erceg was the maid of honor at Moland’s wedding.
Unfortunately, both women broke their hips earlier this year — and wound up, for a while, on the same floor at BenedictineHealthCenter in Duluth.
The present Denfeld building opened its doors in 1926, so it was still almost new when the trio entered the school as sophomores in 1928. Moore said her older brother was in the first class to graduate from the school in 1929.
They were in school as America went through the beginnings of the Great Depression. It was doubly hard for her, Moore said, because in 1929 her father died of a heart attack. Nonetheless, she enjoyed going to school at Denfeld.
“It was wonderful. I loved it,” she said, although different from high school as she hears about it these days. “We didn’t have the freedom that they have now.”
Moore lived independently until July 8, said her daughter, Marilyn Lueck. She still drives herself to church and the grocery store. She volunteered at St. Luke’s hospital until she was 97, only stopping then because she was tired of driving in the snow, Lueck said.
Although encouraged by some of her seven grandchildren who were on hand for the event, Moland said she didn’t have many memories of high school. But she was certain of one thing: “We had a good school there.”
The three women almost weren’t together at the same time on Saturday. Erceg and her escorts arrived later than expected, and Moore and her family members were due to leave for a family reunion.
But at 3:30, the three members of the Denfeld Class of ’31 were together again, Erceg and Moland in wheelchairs and Moore standing behind them, as smiling children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren looked on and recorded the moment on their digital cameras and cell phones.