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Esther Grenzow: 100 years of memories, faith and family
MONROE - The home where Esther Grenzow was born and raised served as the perfect backdrop to celebrate her 100th birthday last summer. Although she has moved to town in Monroe, she's still enjoying moments and finding comfort in memories, faith and family.

Grenzow grew up on the farm that sits on the stateline just south of Juda, and attended Oakley Country School a few miles away. She recalls sometimes riding ponies to school and keeping them in friend Pete Weidman's barn. Other times, she said, they drove a one-horse buggy and were able to keep the horse in the barn at the house beside the school.

Oakley had several families, a blacksmith shop and even a store then. Sometimes, there were as many as 40 students in the one-room schoolhouse. Ann Steiner was the teacher, and Grenzow recalls her leaving to teach in Juda, but was wanted back badly enough to get offered the almost unheard of salary of $45 per month.

As the middle child of two siblings, Grenzow recalls helping a lot on the farm that had a little bit of everything, and she would often plow corn with a pair of mules. For fun, she and her siblings would have pony races with neighbors and win, despite their pony's small stature - always a fun upset for the group.

When her older sister was able to drive to school, Grenzow skipped a grade to ride along with her the 7 miles in the family's Model T coupe to the school in Juda. They would stay with an uncle in the winter months in order to get to school.

She had six people in her graduating class, and Grenzow recalls they all decided to cut class one day to head to Monroe to enjoy the spring weather. She laughed as she remembered they got caught, and the principal made each one make up the time.

After graduation from Juda High School in 1932, Grenzow decided to attend Brown's Business College in Freeport. She said she really hoped to type, and took the secretarial course for two years.

After taking the Civil Service Exam, Grenzow received a telegram to report for service at the Farm Home Administration in Washington. She and her first husband, John Seidel, who also landed a job there in the general accounting office, were off.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt was in office then and the job opportunity was thanks to him, she said. In 1936, Grenzow was happy she was old enough to vote for Roosevelt. She took classes to advance while in Washington, and was earning about $105 per month. Eventually, she was transferred to the Veterans Administration.

When Grenzow became pregnant with her oldest daughter, Audrey, she went home for a while before coming back to work in Washington. She has fond memories of her young family attending Roosevelt's inauguration and later on, a baseball game where Roosevelt threw out the first pitch.

It wasn't long before Grenzow was transferred for work again, this time in the Rural Electrification Administration, a position she also enjoyed. Sadly, John was only 24 when he got a staph infection and was sick for five days before he died. Penicillin wasn't around in 1935, and shortly after, Grenzow took 5-year-old Audrey and headed home permanently to be with family.

When Grenzow came home she worked at the Brodhead bank for about a year and then later married Herbert Andereck, a man she knew from high school, at the Baptist Church in Juda. Her second daughter, Elaine, was born nine years after Audrey, but the two were thrilled to have each other, Grenzow recalls.

Soon, she landed a job at the Bank of Juda, where she worked doing mainly bookkeeping, for about 25 years. She also helped her husband at his auto garage, Andereck Chevrolet, doing odd jobs. The couple was very active together at the Baptist Church of Juda, and Grenzow could often be found playing piano at the church.

After Andereck's death of a heart condition in 1981 at the age of 72, it was difficult for Grenzow and the family. But she decided shortly after she would bring her mother from the nursing home to care for her at home for four years with a little help from family and friends.

At age 80, she found love again and was married to Morris Grenzow in 1996. She said they had always known each other, and their grandparents were even neighbors while growing up. The couple contributed together in the mid-1990s to the Juda Civic Center and Fire Station. He died in 2011 after 16 years of marriage.

Through the years, Grenzow tried to stay as active as she could while working and raising her daughters. She earned the Monroe Manor Nursing Home Volunteer of the Year award in the 1980s for playing piano weekly.

Coming from a musical family, Grenzow enjoyed her daughters singing while growing up. Grenzow also sang with the Brodhead group Saints Alive for several years in its musical variety shows, and served as the pianist for many church services and weddings.

About 150 people paid tribute to Grenzow during her 100th birthday on a weekend last September, where a slideshow of photographs about her life was presented to share. Today, Larry and Mary Kloepping live at the farm, which is her nephew's son, making her proud the farm is still in the family.

Over the years, Grenzow said her family enjoyed short trips often. They would mostly go to Florida, and she once took Audrey to Germany to visit her brother in the service. In later years, Grenzow has fond memories of spending time at the Grenzow cabin on Jordan Lake.

Today, Grenzow enjoys seeing her children, grandchildren and now her great grandchildren whenever she can. She still has a keyboard, although she plays less today.

Her daughter, Elaine, now lives with her and they belong to the Union Presbyterian Church and participate in a book club when they can.

"While you're alive - live it," Grenzow said.