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Tickling the ivories for nearly a century

Paynesville woman, age 104, plays to make others (and herself) happy

By Scott Thoma

Nearly 100 years after she first learned to play the piano, Ruth Everson is still tickling the ivories.

“I’ve been playing piano since I was five years old,” said Everson, a resident at Koronis Manor in Paynesville. “I learned to play from Mrs. Knutson, my piano teacher, when I lived in Grove City.”

Everson turned 104 on Dec. 3, 2020 and celebrated by waving out the window to the many friends and family that formed a motorcade due to the restrictions from the pandemic.

Ruth Everson has been playing the piano for nearly 100 years. She was happy to sit down and showcase her skills recently at Koronis Manor in Paynesville where she resides.. Photo by Scott Thoma

“I wanted to go dancing,” she said with a laugh. “I really enjoy dancing, but I wasn’t able to leave here and do that because of COVID.”

Everson was married three times and had three children. One son and one daughter passed away from cancer. Her other son, Ken Hanson, lives in nearby Spicer and visits her almost daily.

Everson, who is Norwegian, has traveled to Norway several times to visit relatives.

“I haven’t been there since 2006, but I would love to go again,” she said.

Everson has several grandchildren and great grandchildren, and most recently became a great-great grandmother.

When she was born in 1916, Woodrow Wilson was the President of the United States. Eighteen presidents later, Everson is as a spry as someone half her age.

“Look at her go,” said a resident worker as Everson left her apartment and pushed her walker down the hall as though she were in a race.

“I don’t need this walker,” she said. “But it’s doctor’s orders.”

After a lengthy stroll, Everson heads into a room where a piano is sitting in one of the corners. A smile crossed Everson’s face as though she were a kid seeing a puppy.

From a pouch affixed to her walker, Everson pulled out several old music books, turned the pages of one of them until she found a selection to her liking and began playing beautifully, never missing a note.

“When I play church music for people, they like when I jazz it up a little,” she said with a smile before demonstrating what she was referring to.

Until recently, Everson had been putting on a daily piano recital during lunch when she was residing at Stearns Place Assisted Living, which is attached to Koronis Manor. Since relocating recently, she hasn’t been playing as often, but her skills haven’t diminished.

“I’m hoping I can play more here because I make people happy by playing the piano,” she said. “That’s my goal -- to make people happy. Playing piano also makes me happy.”

Everson told of when she first started taking piano lessons from Mrs. Knutson at a Swedish Church in Grove City.

“She was such a good teacher,” said Ruth. “I learned how to play piano pretty quick from her.”

Everson’s family lived in the country outside of Grove City where Ruth went to school at District 38, a one-room schoolhouse.

“My dad would bring cream into town in cans in a horse-drawn wagon,” she told. “My parents figured as long as he is going into town all the time, he might just as well bring me with, and I could take piano lessons while my dad bought groceries.”

Ruth, who is Norwegian, recently posed in front of a sign written in Norwegian she received for her 104th birthday this past December. The sign reads “Happy Birthday, Ruth 104”. Contributed photo

When her parents saw that Ruth was serious about playing piano, they sold one of their cows so they could buy her a piano.

She continued to play the piano and even began playing the organ at her church. She also became a piano teacher for a number of years.

“I was the first organist they had at Paynesville Lutheran Church in 1938,” she said.

Over the years, Everson has been asked several times to play the piano by a resident in their final hours of life.

“My mother would visit people at nursing homes,” Everson said. “They knew I played the piano and asked if I could come and play a song for them before they passed on. They would tell me what song they wanted me to play for them. I was happy to do it for them.”

When asked what her secret is to a long life, she smiled and responded: “It’s my family. My mother and my grandmother both lived to be 96 years old.

“And I have to give credit to my first husband, Norman. He made me stop smoking. When the ladies would all get together to visit, they all smoked. So, I decided to smoke along with them. My husband saw me smoking and told me I shouldn’t do that. I had only smoked a couple of times, but I quit and never smoked again.”

Everson has outlived three husbands, two of her three children and all 20 of her high school classmates.

But one thing she hasn’t outlived is her love for playing the piano.

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