She drove machinery and milked cows. She mowed peas for the Stokley Van Camp Co. She worked with German war prisoners pitching peas, she said, and “they didn’t even know I was a girl.”
She has scars on her back from wrestling muskrats out of traps, and she taught her own son how to hunt and skin his game.
That’s not to say that Juanita isn’t nurturing. She helped care for her siblings like a mother, which included accompanying them on midnight trips to the outhouse.
She found time for high school sports, too. She was a pitcher on the ball team, was in gymnastics and was the fastest runner, she said. She wanted to be a phys. ed. teacher, she said, “instead, I got married.”
Another of her high school jobs was taking care of people for the doctor in Amboy. When nearby Mapleton built a new nursing home, the doctor wrote her a recommendation and she was hired on there. She had proven herself working 12-hour shifts, and by her fourth night she was put in charge of 65 patients. She was well compensated, too. She made $3.50 an hour, she said, while those under her made 62 cents.
Next, she took an offer for even better pay to work as a cook at the college in Mankato. She cooked breakfast for 1,800 students, making loaves of bread and going through five cases of eggs a day. She was promoted to catering manager where it was her duty to feed the Minnesota Vikings who held their training camp in Mankato for the first time that year.
She likes to tell how she would put those football players in their place, having no tolerance for foul language. After one scolding, it was always “yes ma’am, please and thank you.”
She quit food service when Grandpa got sick and she had to help run his long-haul trucking business. One of her jobs was swapping big tires from the 18 wheelers and changing brake pads. Later, she managed two motels, where she made a point to employ people who were down and out, homeless and struggling with addiction.
“I always told them, ‘don’t you lie to me. If you need help, we’ll get it for you,’” she said.
She worked the last 18 years before retiring at age 79 for an organization that helps adults with disabilities find jobs. She cared for 21 clients over her last years there, and loved every one of them.
Juanita has always been one to help other people, whether they’re a stranger on the street, a step-granddaughter or her own blood.
“I think it’s very important we do things for each other,” she said. “Because I have been blessed with good health and I think we should share it.”
As we celebrate 90 years of a full and vibrant life (and wish for many more to come) it’s a good time to remember that we should all use our gifts to the best of our ability. There’s no higher calling than helping others through this life.