No matter how much we prepare ourselves there is always the chance that the unexpected will happen. That’s the philosophy of 91-year old Adline Kottke of Stewart. She has had many unexpected events happen to her. She has lived through the great Armistice Day Blizzard, her husband’s days as a POW in World War II, his unexpected death at the age of 62, tornadoes in 1953 and 1957, and recently, on the day her son-in-law died, Adline suffered “five knocks at deaths door” and had to have a heart pacemaker implanted.
She retired one year ago working at a nursing home in Buffalo Lake. She had worked there for 32 years as a CNA and also entertained the residents with her piano playing. She wanted to be known as the oldest working person in the nation but upon her retirement that didn’t happen. Adline Bulau, born on August 11, 1919, grew up on a farm near Fernando (located south of Stewart). It was important for her parents that each of their children went on to college.Adline graduated from Stewart High School and then went on to St. Cloud and finished her 2-year correspondence through Mankato and the University of Minnesota. After college she married a farm boy, Norman Kottke on June 4, 1941. “Our first adventure out there (on his parent’s farm) didn’t last long because Uncle Sam called him the next spring,” she said. He had a choice of which branch of service and he chose the Air Force because he wanted to learn how to fly. Aldine received her teaching certificate and taught school at Winthrop District 52 country school. “At that time when you got a job you hung onto it as jobs were pretty hard to come by,” Adline said. She taught grades 1-8, full time, for 12 years. Plus she taught part time for other schools such as Brownton District 55 and Silver Lake District 62. This year’s record winter brings back memories for Adline of the Armistice Day Blizzard which is still in the record books as one of the worst and one of the deadliest blizzards ever, claiming 144 lives and lasting for two days and leaving many people stranded for weeks. At the time of the blizzard on Nov. 11, 1941, Adline was living with her parents on the farm that was not too far from her country school in where she taught. Her mother woke her up early and told her that she had better get going because it was snowing. “I remember thinking to myself, what is the big deal? It always snows in Minnesota,” she said. At any rate she thought she would hurry and get dressed so that her mother wouldn’t get upset with her. When Adline got downstairs much to her surprise her mother had breakfast ready and her lunch was packed, which she hadn’t done in many years. This was the first winter that there was electricity so when she looked outside, Adline saw the yard light was on and underneath it was her car which was running. She thought she had better get going so she didn’t finish eating her breakfast, gathered her belongings and was on her way. Adline arrived at school along with her 25 students. But then at 9:20 a.m. the parents came to retrieve them and took them home to safety. All the students were on their way home except one little five-year-old girl. Adline and the girl stayed at school, ate everything in their lunch buckets and waited and waited. Finally at 2:30, the winds were blowing and the snow kept falling, and they heard a horse’s snort. Someone had come to save them. Adline’s five-year-old companion’s father had arrived to take them home. He brought a team of horses and sled runners to pull Adline’s car with her and the child inside. The horses could not pull the car so they had to change plans. The new plan was to have his daughter in front of him and Adline was to hold onto him around his neck plus straddle the sled runners. They made it to the student’s parent’s home and that is where Adline spent the next two weeks – stranded with no way to go anywhere and no way to get a hold of anyone since there were no telephones. The Armistice Day Blizzard is her first story about something unexpected happening. In the spring of 1942, not quite a year after their wedding, Norman entered the U.S. Air Force — unexpectedly. Adline thought he should have been exempt because he was married, had a child, and worked on his family’s farm. He became a pilot and a bombardier with the 398th Bomb Group stationed 40 miles north of London. It was on his 34th bombing mission in his 13 months of military duty when he said, “I had the feeling we weren’t coming back!” Their assignment: Missburg, Germany. Near Frankfurt. Their mission: to bomb the last standing natural oil refinery in Germany. Weather: Excellent for bombing run. . . very cloudy. This was Nov. 25, 1944. After they dropped their last rack of bombs a terrific blast shattered all the glass in the pilot’s cockpit and took out three of the four engines. They had close to 150 miles to go to make it back to the United States controlled France, but they were dropping 700 feet per minute and realized they wouldn’t make it. They decided they had to bail and Norman was the first one to parachute out of the plane. This was the first time he ever parachuted out of an airplane. “You had to do it right the first time because you don’t get a second chance,” he had joked. After he landed he was captured, put in a holding camp and a week later brought by train to an interrogation center. Each prisoner was put in solitary confinement for nine days. Norman was a POW in Stalag Luft #4 for five months. He was released on Mother’s Day in 1945. The International Red Cross notified Adline nine days after he was captured, and said he was fine. “I was quite relieved to hear that,” she said. She received one more postcard from Norman that had his signature and a box checked that read “I am well.” On the evening of Mother’s Day Adline was having supper at a friend’s house and she heard on the short-wave radio that Norman was released as a POW and the war was over. The number 13 was a significant number for the Kottke’s. Norman’s social security number ended with 13, a daughter was born on the 13th, Norman left for the service on the 13th and came back on the 13th. Flying was his passion. “It was an outgrowth of his adventures and episodes,” Adline said. “You could call us a military family. Because of his exposure to aviation, we bought our own plane, had our own runway, hangar and all right on the farm. We were members of the International Flying Farmers and also the Minnesota Flying Farmers,” Adline noted. Norman taught his children how to fly and even Adline got the opportunity to land the plane. “It came about in a very funny way. We were in Rochester for a Flying Farmers meeting and naturally we had to get home to do chores in the evening because we had dairy cattle. He had flown the pattern, all clear and then he said “Take her in.” He was always joking. So I sat there nonchalantly. Then he said, “I said take it in!” Okay, okay. I grabbed the steering wheel and took it in. I was so proud of myself because I landed without a bounce. Like landing on a pillow. I taxied up to the hangar, so proud of myself. But later on that evening he patted me on the shoulder and he said I took out one row of corn because I wasn’t in the center of the runway. I expected him to really scold me but he said it was okay because it was our corn.” It was on another Flying Farmers annual meeting in Mankato in June of 1979 that the unexpected happened. In the morning the women went shopping and Norman went down to the sauna in the hotel. Adline said she really didn’t want to go shopping but because it was a rainy day and all the flying events were canceled she decided to go shopping. “We were still shopping, sirens blew and they blew. And we said oh my what happened? Now it was time for us to get back to the hotel. Everybody catered to me,” said Adline. “Why, why? We were in charge of the program and everything was ready. I didn’t know why they catered to me. Then the deputy told me that Norman drowned in the pool. A little boy with his mom noticed the body at the bottom of the pool. You are in such frenzy and shock.” Norman was 62 years old at the time of his death. Adline has taken on many volunteer jobs, mainly because of events that have taken place in her lifetime. She has been involved with the Red Cross Bloodmobile in Stewart since 1980. She is the coordinator and is planning for the August blood drive. “I became involved with the Red Cross because it was the Red Cross that spared my husband’s life during World War II. I am here to fulfill somebody else’s needs,” she said. It was also in 1980 she started playing piano for the nursing home in Buffalo Lake and organ for the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Stewart. Before Norman died they were on a committee for the church to purchase a new pipe organ. He never got to hear it play. Adline was determined to learn how to play the organ because Norman loved music. She self-taught herself to play the organ and continues playing for the church to this day for church services, funerals and weddings. Norman and Adline have seven children, 14 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. Adline’s hobby is quilting. She has made over 300 quilts. Each of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren receive a quilt when they are born, when they graduate from high school and when they get married. Other quilts have gone to friends for their babies. The most recent unexpected event in Adline’s life happened early in 2011. Her daughter’s husband had passed away. Adline wanted to be with her daughter and went with her son to her house on Lake Minnebelle. While she was at her daughter’s house one of her sons noticed something was wrong with Adline. They quickly rushed her by ambulance to a hospital in Litchfield and then she was flown by helicopter to a hospital in St. Cloud. She had to have a pacemaker put in after she had five syncopes (bouts of low blood pressure and her heart stopped). All this on the same day her son-in-law passed away. “I have traveled many a highway and many of it was not paved. I lived through the depression, I lived through World War II, then again 18 years later I sent my oldest boy to Vietnam and now I sent a grandson to Iraq. That’s why I say I am a military mom,” she said. And one with a golden heart.