St. Peter woman, who will reach century mark this month, donates 20 hours a week

Gale Kreykes, whose 100th birthday is on Dec. 3, credits her longevity to three thing… genetics, keeping busy and healthy habits.

“I had an aunt who was 102 and another pushing 100. I never smoked and never drank. I’m boring,” she said.

Gale Kreykes, who turns 100 on Dec. 3, serves up some chili at Parkview Manor in St. Peter as her daughter, “Korky” Schaeffer, looks on. Kreykes said volunteering has helped her stay healthy, both physically and mentally. Photo by Carlienne Frisch

Her life, however, doesn’t sound boring. Gale has been working most of that life, raising five children, caring for horses, teaching school, gardening, hosting family events, analyzing numbers, doing kitchen duty at a state hospital and volunteering in a variety of ways. Nowadays, she spends 20 hours a week packing and serving hot meals at Parkview Manor in St. Peter, where she lives.

Throughout Gale’s life, many of her activities have held an edge of excitement — from being born at home in Montana, to riding in a wagon train, to planning a potluck event at the Nicollet County Fairgrounds as her funeral celebration. She and a younger brother grew up in North Mankato, where her father, who was originally from the area, brought the family when his wife became ill. Gale attended Mankato High School and Mankato Normal School (now Minnesota State University, Mankato), where she got a teaching degree with a focus in math and music. But it was a two-credit physical education class that led to her future adventures as a military wife, mother of five, horse woman and wagon train rider.

“I wanted to do something fun to finish my degree, so I took horseback riding,” Gale explained. “I met Keith Kreykes, who was working for my uncle, who had riding stables. After we were married in January 1943, I quit teaching because my husband wanted me home. I had taught junior and senior high school for three years in several communities. I think junior high students are fun.”

Because her husband was in the U.S. Navy, Gale had the opportunity to live in San Francisco and in New London, Conn. She returned to North Mankato during the times he shipped out to sea. She was displeased with military housing and was delighted when her husband was discharged and they returned to Minnesota. Then, the next phase–a very busy phase–of Gale’s life began.

“Between 1946 and 1952, we had five children–three boys and two girls–in those seven years,” she said. She went on to explain how she chose the unusual name of Koroll (pronounced Coral) for her first daughter. “I was walking down the street in Little Falls and saw a sign Koroll Shoes, and I thought ‘that would be a nice name for a little girl.’” (Her daughter, who is called Korky, commented, “No one can spell Koroll.”)

The Kreykes family moved to 10 acres along the Minnesota River in rural St. Peter, where they had horses and beef cattle. Gale spent many years as a volunteer with 4-H and with Boy Scouts. In her 4-H work, she specialized in cattle, canning and baking (There was no 4-H horse project at the time). In addition, she and her husband each served more than 30 years on the Nicollet County Fair Board, she as secretary, he tending the grounds.

“Keith and I did many things together,” Gale said. “The only thing he did alone involved a horse–the Nicollet County Posse.”

Beginning in 1961, Gale embarked on a new career, the start of 22 years working at St. Peter State Hospital. Using her math education, she began as a research analyst. Eventually, though, she went to work in the kitchen. She explained, “A computer came in, and I was ready to not carry so much responsibility. Later, at age 74, I had involuntary retirement.”

In 1976, Gale’s and Keith’s love of horses led them on a national adventure. They spent three summer months as part of the Bicentennial Wagon Train. She recalled, “We began in St. Paul. We had our toilet–a square wooden shack with two pots in it–a two-holer, which we burned when we got to Valley Forge. Keith was the wagon master of the wagon train on which we rode, and at Valley Forge he was elected the head wagon master. We drove home in a pickup truck, pulling the horse trailer.”

Gale Kreykes, who turns 100 on Dec. 3, can still light up a room with her smile. Photo by Carlienne Frisch

Horses were an integral part of the Kreykes family’s activities, with the children, and eventually the grandchildren, enjoying them as much as their parents did. Then, nearly 20 years ago, when Gale was in her 80s, she and her husband sold their horses and moved into St. Peter. He passed in 2011, and she moved to Parkview Manor. There, she appreciates being part of a community that provides her with the opportunity to be useful not only to fellow residents, but also to other senior citizens in St. Peter.

At Parkview Manor, Gale and her daughter, “Korky” Schaeffer, receive a delivery of prepared food at 9 a.m., five days a week. The food is brought by volunteers from Mankato, where it has been prepared in a state-approved kitchen. (Korky, age 74, also lives at Parkview Manor–in a separate apartment.)

The work may seem mundane, but Gale’s 20 hours of volunteer time working with the food each week is equivalent to holding a half-time job. She portions out the noon meal for home delivery by other volunteers to senior citizens in St. Peter. After taking a coffee break, Gale sets the tables in the Parkview Manor dining room, dishes up food for residents and guests, and only then sits down to her own meal. Later, she clears the tables, washes dishes by hand and runs them through a sanitizer. Korky, who is the kitchen supervisor, oversees the process. After many decades of volunteering, from 4-H to county fair board, Gale continues to serve people–this time literally.

“I enjoy being here, being around people,“ she said. “The thing to do is to keep busy, because if you don’t, you deteriorate both mentally and physically. I still drive around town–to church and grocery shopping, and occasionally to go shopping in Mankato.”

Although Gale has expressed her ideas for a potluck funeral at the county fairgrounds, she’s has not taken part in planning her centennial birthday celebration. She said, “I’m not preparing anything. My younger daughter and one son are planning the party here in the dining room.”

Gale’s family includes her five children, 12 grandchildren, more than 25 great-grandchildren and two nieces.