Mary Mitchell celebrates her 99th birthday today. If there is music at the Powell House, where she resides, she may even dance a little, but don't expect her to raise a glass of anything alcoholic to toast life. Not drinking is one of the things to which she attributes her long life.
"I never drank liquor. I never smoked. My parents didn't smoke or drink either."
Mitchell was her parents' first daughter and third of 12 children, born and raised in Hibbing, Minn. Mitchell had two younger sisters and nine brothers.
Mitchell's father farmed and worked in the mines to take care of his family.
Mitchell attended the University of Minnesota and became a registered nurse.
"It was a four-year program, but I finished it in three," she said. Once she finished school she went to work in the children's building at a tuberculosis sanitarium outside Minneapolis. Eventually Mitchell became head nurse of the building.
She married twice, first at 23 to Vern Larsen.
"Marrying that late was pretty unusual back then," she said. The couple had three daughters, June, who lives in Payson; Lola, who makes her home in Florida; and Gail, who resides in Texas. She had eight grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren.
Mitchell and Larsen were married for 42 years before he died of emphysema. Her second husband was John Henry Mitchell. He had been in Mitchell's sophomore class at the high school in Hibbing.
Mitchell and her second husband traveled a lot, she said.
"It was wonderful for me. He'd take care of everything."
They were on one of their trips when they were in a car wreck that killed John Mitchell.
The road had a lot of sharp curves and so Mitchell was driving slow. Her husband urged her to speed up just as they reached an especially tight bend in the road. Instead of making the turn, they went over the edge. Mitchell was severely injured, but because she was wearing her seat belt she survived.
"He never would wear his seat belt," she said. "He'd be alive today if he'd worn a seat belt. A lot of men are like that -- they don't like to be hemmed in."
Mitchell came to Payson to live at the Powell House shortly after it opened. It was a whole new life for her, so she started something she had not yet had a chance to do -- be creative. She is a big fan of the crafts program offered at the Powell House and has become quite the mosaic artist. She designs and builds mosaics using shells and beads and even bottle caps.
But crafts are for another day today, Tuesday, April 27. Today Mitchell is celebrating a well-lived life of 99 years.
Happy birthday, Mary Mitchell.