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Murphy nears 100th birthday milestone

Edith Murphy would like to make popcorn balls for all of her friends at the Ellsworth Care Center to celebrate her upcoming birthday.

Her birthday on Sunday, Nov. 26, will be particularly special this year, as it marks the 100th year of her life. Last week, the Ellsworth native rattled off a list of ingredients she'd use in those celebratory popcorn balls and told how she'd include peanuts in some for those who like that addition.

What about everyday living at the care center, where she's been since before this past Mother's Day?

"I'm slow and my feet hurt," Murphy said Thursday about her health.

But aside from those troubles and some hearing loss, the near-centenarian was happy and had stories to share with visitors to her nursing home room. She admitted to having checked out okay otherwise when examined by doctors.

While the popcorn ball-making may have been a wish, crafting pillows has been a recent reality for her. A pastime since she was in high school, the materials for her hobby were kept nearby. Displayed on a bulletin board was an auction bill from when her and late husband Edward's home in town and belongings were sold. It's dated Oct. 6, 2005.

"I told Jack (auctioneer Hines) to go out and make me some money," she remembered, indicating he did, as the property brought $189,000 and a classic wall phone $300 alone.

The couple had an apartment upstairs in their 100-plus-year-old house to rent out, often to teachers, she said. The residence, across from a local park, featured a screened porch all around. The present owners have fixed it up and it's now got a for sale sign out front, she understood.

Murphy's beginnings were in a log house in the Town of Ellsworth, she said. She's the daughter of Hema Bergund and Karl Lubnow, who came to the U.S. with his family from Germany when he was six-years-old, originally to Pennsylvania, then here. She attended the one-room Clayfield school through eighth grade, taught by five different teachers, and graduated from the old high school in Ellsworth.

"We took potatoes with us and baked them in the ashes," she said about the students' lunch over a fire built at school.

Murphy and her spouse, who died eight years ago, farmed 200 acres, she said. He also drove a milk route for the local creamery. They hosted up to five hired men for meals at threshing time and she cooked.

"We had our own pork, beef, eggs and butter," she said, recalling butchering pigs and making headcheese as well.

They gardened, canning tomatoes and making their own ketchup, she said, telling about using a bottle capper to seal that product. They relied on an ice box to keep perishables.

"We just got electricity when we were leaving the farm," she said.

The men rigged a string from the house to the barn they could pull to turn on a light out there, she said. It enabled them to see the barnyard after dark, as she often worried about predators.

The Murphys had a daughter, Sharon, who died, she said. As they grew older, they regularly visited the late Dr. Klaas, whose office was in east end.

"One day, I told him how I was always tired, falling asleep in the rocking chair," she said. "He answered, 'you're getting old...after all, you're 54'."

Today, almost a half-century later, she said she's being well cared for at the care center. Her favorite meal is chicken; she sometimes watches the news on TV. When her nephew from Minneapolis visits her, they play euchre.

He plans to be there for her birthday, along with her son-in-law, Bruce Johnson of Milwaukee, a retired teacher, she said. She seemed amazed to have reached the milestone of age 100.

And her secret to a long life?

"You tell me," she said.