April 25, 2023 at 8:29 p.m.

‘A good life, a holy life’

‘A good life, a holy life’
‘A good life, a holy life’

By Carol [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

Breth a happy 100-year-old 

Happy 100th birthday cards line a table in Frances Breth’s Grace Court room at the Mother of Mercy Senior Living campus in Albany, in front of a wall filled with family photos. Overlooking the cards is a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary with a red rosary wrapped around it.

“I think God is keeping me alive because I have to help people, and I have to pray for my children,” this happy 100-year-old said April 12 relaxing in a recliner wearing a bright orange shirt and pink fingernail polish.  

She credits her family and faith for her long life.

“I love the Blessed Virgin. I bought her when we (husband Mike) were married. She’s 80 years old,” Frances said. 

Her long life started March 30, 1923, on a farm southwest of Holdingford, the sixth of eight children born to Simon and Margaret Ebnet, and the lone survivor. 

She pauses a few seconds before answering, “Dr. Watson,” when asked the name of the doctor who came to the farm to deliver her. 

She loved life on the farm, every morning and night milking four of the eight cows her parents owned, along with sheep and horses.

“When you went to school you hoped you didn’t smell like the barn,” she said. 

There was no running water to take a quick shower.

Her dad cooked moonshine in their basement, which was illegal. She recalls driving with her mother and their hired man to the Dakotas to sell the moonshine. 

Frances talks about when federal government officials came to their house when she was around 4 years old.  

“I remember Mom looking out the window, and she said the feds are coming. My brother was in the basement tending to the moonshine, and she yelled to him to get out. She hooked the screen so the feds couldn’t get in. But they walked right in and knew just where to go because somebody had reported my dad. They were breaking jars, everything. Mom said, ‘Don’t break my fruit jars,’” Frances said. “They took my dad, and he was in jail at Leavenworth for 11 months, so my mother had to do the farm work, plowing, all that.”

She smiles saying, “I don’t drink, never have, accept maybe a beer when making hay.” 

She appreciated growing up on the farm, where money was scarce and work was plentiful.  

“It was the best life,” she said. “You had lots of places to run around. I’d climb trees a lot. We had a creek that ran through the farm and I’d hook clamps on my shoes with a strap across and go skating.” 

They had an apple and plum orchard. 

“We’d wrap the apples in Sears Roebuck catalog papers, and put ‘em in a barrel in the basement where is was cool, and they lasted most of the winter,” she said. 

Potatoes dug up from the garden were “dumped in the basement,” Frances said, and “they lasted all winter, into the summer.”  

Their house was heated by a woodstove. 

“We had a lot of blankets, wool blankets,” she said. “They sheered the sheep and used the wool to make blankets.” 

Frances was around age 16 when they got electricity on the farm. 

She attended Holdingford Public School, where bookkeeping was her favorite subject. 

“My dad took us to school every day, and if it was snowing, we went by horse and sleigh,” she said.

She was involved in everything in school, including theatre. 

When she was in high school she met Mike Breth, son of Leopold and Anna Breth,

of St. Francis. Frances was a friend of Mike’s sister, and one day while attending a Christmas program Frances was in, he told his sister he was going to marry Frances someday.

“And I didn’t even know him,” said Frances of this man who was 10 years older than she was.  

They started dating in December.

“And by the end of January I had a diamond ring on my finger,” she said. “He wanted to marry me right away and I said, ‘No, we have to wait until after Easter.’” 

On May 4, 1943, they married at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Holdingford and lived a simple life on a farm south of town. 

“My husband built a playhouse for our kids. We didn’t have a TV,” she said. “We didn’t have much money when the kids were young.” 

Eventually, they moved to the Twin Cities where Mike worked for the railroad, and Frances cared for their growing family, which would include David, Kathleen, Jean, Daniel, James, Suzanne, Marilyn, Mary Ann and Elaine. 

She talks about the death by drowning of David at age 20 when he was serving in the Air Force in Rapid City, South Dakota. 

“I cried for two years,” she said of their son who would be 79. “It still hurts me today.”  

 A smile forms on her face when talking about a treasured photo taken of David with almost 1-year-old Elaine, when the Breths took her to Rapid City.  

“David held her and said, ‘This one will never get to know me,’” Frances said. “He died on her first birthday.” 

Daughter Jean has also passed away, after suffering a heart attack.

“God wanted them for some reason,” Frances said. 

 The Breths also lived in St. Francis, St. Cloud, Holdingford and Opole. Mike passed away 14 years ago at age 96, and Frances learned to fend for herself.  

“I drove a car until 92, even in St. Cloud,” she said. 

At age 92, she moved to Pondview Estates in Albany in 1994, after her children worried about her falling in her home. Two years ago she moved to Grace Court.

She is thankful she remains healthy, other than back issues and a broken leg at age 98, and credits her good health to an active life. She was a lector at churches and continues to be during Mother of Mercy Masses. 

“I sang in the choir,” she said. “I used to love to sing every day.” 

On her iPad, she brings up photos of her swimming with grandchildren in the ocean about one year ago, admitting she would do that again.   

On her 100th birthday family took her out for dinner and supper. 

“I can’t believe it’s a whole century,” she said, whispering as she adds, “I don’t feel like I’m 100” and she doesn’t worry about how long she will live.  

She looked forward to an April 15 open house celebrating her centenarian milestone, eager to wear her new pink outfit and to visit with friends and family, including her children and their spouses and some of her 32 grandchildren, 66 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild with another one on the way. 

“I take it one day at a time and enjoy it while I can,” Frances said. “I’ve lived a good life, a holy life.” 


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