Marvin Rabe
Marvin Rabe
On his 99th birthday Aug. 8, 2013, Marvin Rabe’s seven kids told him to “shoot for 100,” said the Chatfield resident. Now, just days away from his 100th birthday, which was celebrated early with a large party Saturday, he isn’t sure what to anticipate as he said “I really never thought I’d get to 100…”
Rabe, son of Clarence and Lizzie (Weiman) Rabe, was raised on a farm north of Oak Center, which is between Lake City and Zumbro Falls.
“One of the earliest things I remember is my dad went to town and came home…he brought me a little Shetland pony. I must’ve been about 4 or 5 years old,” said Rabe.
He attended school at School District #10 north of Oak Center until he was 12 or 13 years old and had finished eighth grade, so he spent the ensuing winters until he was 15 or 16 “reviewing the eighth grade…that’s as far as I got in school.”
He commented that his childhood was somewhat marred by a trombone, though not enough to give him nightmares. “I like good music. I used to play in a band when I was 12 or 13 years old. It was a little band they started at Oak Center. I played trombone. I never did like trombone. That’s why I gave it up.”
Rabe farmed all his life until he retired, working first for his father, then for a neighbor the summers he was 18 and 19. He continued at home winters and working for a neighbor during the summers until he met his first wife. They were married, had a daughter, JoAnn (Hayes), and moved to Zumbro Falls.
“I worked for the highway that winter for 25 cents an hour for 10 hours a day. I called that a pretty good job,” he said.
He and his wife parted ways while they lived in Zumbro Falls, and shortly thereafter, he met his second wife, Ethel, whom he married in 1943. Their first farm was between Oak Center and Zumbro Falls, by the Lincoln church.
“The fella who did our income taxes also did rentals, and he told me, ‘When you get a crop in, I’ll find you a farm.’ That’s how we ended up here,” said Rabe. “I didn’t know anybody, and nobody knew me. We had Larry and Elizabeth (Brinkman) when we moved to Chatfield, and the other four came later.”
Rabe farmed the land in Orion Township, five miles north of Chatfield, tending it until 1977, at which time he sold it to his son, Robert, but continued to lend a hand whenever he felt needed.
“I more or less retired when I was about 80, but I’d go out to the farm to help the boys because Larry bought a farm, too,” he said. “But if I wanted a day off, I could take a day off.”
After retiring, he filled his hours with grass clippings, fish and boat cruises.
“We had a corner lot, and I mowed that with a push mower. I mowed for one or two neighbors,” he related. “My wife and I would take about a week off and go up north fishing. We’d visit relatives around. We also went on a trip to the Hawaiian Islands, we went on a boat cruise and we spent about a month in Florida. We spent a vacation in Arizona and also in California.”
He added that if Ethel had not died in 1999, they would have continued to travel.
“We had a good married life. We had six children, and they’re all here yet. I have 26 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren, and even a fifth generation. I’m real proud of my family,” he said.
Over the years, Rabe has been a member of St. Paul Lutheran Church, the Chatfield Lions Club and joined other card-players for a round of any game that was on the table, and up until he was only about 97, he was a man making his own dinner – he moved to the Chosen Valley Care Center from an apartment three years ago because his children felt he’d have a better chance to get out and dine with others, maybe talk about his passion: square dancing. He’s an honorary member of the Whitewater Whirlers square dance club from Dover and also of the Silver Treads club of Rochester.
The former farmer and Ethel took up square dancing because she wanted to give it a try. They started around 1964. They had seven children, so they could leave the older kids home to take care of the younger kids and some of the milking.
“Money was scarce, but we could go dancing because it didn’t cost much. We were in different card clubs around, and we joined the two square dancing clubs. After the second lesson, for 2 cents, I said I wouldn’t go back again, but my wife kept after me, and you know how that works,” he related. “That’s how I got talked into it. Other people had talked to us about it different times, too.”
Square dancing provided the couple an outing off the farm, and it also afforded them a chance to meet people who could keep a tight 90-degree angle but have fun while circling left. In retirement, after Ethel died, it was a way for Marvin to remain in contact with friends the couple had met, and eventually, he admitted, he even gave some of those friends “a push” to become a couple.
“It was good exercise. You also meet a lot of real nice people where there’s square dancing,” he noted, adding that he used to dance at Chatfield’s Val-A Lodge when there were whirling squares meeting there. He still likes catching a ride with some of the square dance clubs’ members to the Pla-Mor Ballroom in Rochester to watch the dances, and he “used to like to read, but my eyes don’t like to anymore…I played baseball, I played horseshoes, and now I like to play cards, go out and sun myself a little, make quite a few trips up and down the halls, get out and visit with people, do things.”
At the age of 91, Rabe shared with The Chatfield News his rule of vitality – good advice for the Baby Boomers, who have become the next generation of senior citizens. “Well, if they want to live a good long life, stay active. I think that dancing has helped me a lot, even with my stiff ankle and bad foot.”
He admitted that had he not been coerced or prodded, he might still have resisted square dancing in spite of the fact that it has contributed to his good health.
“I’m glad I kept on,” he said. “I’m happy with things the way they are.”
For his hundredth birthday celebration, his children hosted a party for him, an occasion for which he said last week he hoped to be at least walking, if not dancing. He had been stepping up and down the halls at the care center, getting ready for his big day.
“My kids are putting a party on, and it’s going to be pretty big blowout. For my 90th birthday, we spent that at the Pla-Mor, and there were a lot of people there. The kids thought this might be even bigger. There’ll be one couple from Kansas, a lot of my grandkids, people coming from Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota,” he said last week. “I’m trying to keep limbered up, been walking quite a lot, and if I can get back to walking, I’ll be happy even if I need a cane.”
He’s contemplating what bright square-dancing shirt to wear for the first day his age has three digits in it, and he’s also contemplating the concept of being a whole century old.
“To think about it, yeah, it’s different to be 100. I’m wondering what to do with the rest of my life now,” he said. “I just hope that it’s a nice day for the party, that a lot of people come and help me celebrate, and that they enjoy it.”