March 21, 2023 at 4:51 p.m.
Ritter walking, gardening, farming, coloring at age 90
Alfred Ritter laughs when asked how many pairs of shoes he has gone through during his 25 years of walking.
Chances are, it has been more than a few, according to the 5K and half-marathon medals dangling from an Always Earned Never Given display in his and wife Adeline’s rural Avon home.
Totaling the number of miles walked is impossible, but now that he thinks about it, it’s something that he could have – and should – have done.
“It’s endless,” he said March 14, his 90th birthday, sitting around the kitchen table with Adeline, his wife of 55 years and biggest supporter, and Darlene Gill, one of their seven children, talking about his walking – and long life.
Alfred was born March 14, 1933, on the dairy family farm where his other 10 siblings were also born.
He smiles when hearing that he is an inspiration – in more ways than his walking accomplishments.
“They (Alfred and Adeline) are both inspirations from their work ethic, simple life to walking, gardening, coloring, puzzles and word finds,” Darlene said.
“And I like a good game of 500,” Alfred adds.
He described the yellow peppers in his garden last year.
“It was a beautiful pepper,” he said proudly.
Darlene locates a photo of him with his Stearns County Fair entries, which earned him blue and red ribbons.
He pulls out the adult coloring book he received for Christmas and by the end of January had each page colored.
Adeline has her own prize possession – a framed puzzle of the farm she put together after receiving it as a gift, not an easy task because the pieces were in black and white. Now, she is hooked on puzzles, much like Alfred is hooked on walking.
His walking dates back to growing up on the Ritter farm, a short walking distance from their house.
“We always walked to school, toward Collegeville, about a mile from the farm,” he said.
Alfred was one of Simon and Josephine Ritter’s 11 children. He mentions his other living siblings, Edward, 87, and Alice Schindler, 85.
Alfred started walking in full force in their pastures when he retired – well, semi retired – from farming at age 65.
“I’d see him walking in the fields,” Adeline said. “Today, he makes it around County Road 40 and back. It’s close to four miles before breakfast.”
“And before chores,” he adds.
That’s right, Alfred still helps on the farm.
“I feed heifers, sweep alleys, help with the feed,” he said.
He doesn’t walk outside in the winter because of ice, but he walks inside their house and on a stationary bike.
His relaxed paced walks have taken him to Avon, Albany, Farming, St. Martin and even 15 miles to Cold Spring.
The weather doesn’t deter him.
“I got caught in a thunderstorm and the water was running out of my shoes, but I had to keep going,” he said.
Even though 5Ks were canceled in 2020 during the pandemic, his supportive family drove him to where the 5Ks were scheduled, and they walked the route without the crowds – even going to the north shore to imitate Grandma’s Marathon. That Christmas Darlene made him a custom medal for the 2020 5Ks he finished that weren’t held.
In many of the 5Ks and half-marathons, he is often the oldest participant.
He is already registered for Grandma’s Marathon on Father’s Day; his favorite walk, along with the St. Martin 5K.
“It’s along the north shore and it’s just nice in Duluth,” he said.
Alfred is usually in an age group all his own at 5Ks and Grandma’s Marathon, which draws close to 2,500 participants. He is thinking this year he might be the oldest participant.
Darlene walks with him during many of these 5Ks and half-marathons, inspired by a father who is almost 40 years older than she is.
To Alfred, it is not about winning a race; it is about finishing. When he was 85 he could walk a 5K in close to 50 minutes, and now it takes him close to one hour.
While walking, he likes checking out the countryside whether around the farm or in Duluth. There is another plus.
“It’s good for the bones and everything else,” he said. “I always feel the best when I’m almost done walking.”
His motto in life is “keep moving,” Darlene said, and chances are, that is what has kept him as healthy as he is. Following arthroscopic knee surgery in 2007, his doctor told him walking was the best thing to do.
“If I would have sat around at 65, just watching TV, I maybe wouldn’t be here today,” he said.
He figures living a healthy – and active – life has gotten him to 90.
“My mother said hard work doesn’t kill you but all the other stuff does: drinking, smoking,” Alfred said.
And what does he think about when he is walking, especially this time of the year?
“My garden,” he said laughing.
“I always tell him to cut back,” Adeline said.
While he likes eating the produce he grows, he also enjoys giving it away.
He also likes doodling, which often turns into drawings. Each year for his birthday his sister sends him a homemade card, and he challenges himself to draw what is on the front of the card and send it back to his sister for her birthday in June.
“I started drawing, just like I started walking, just by doing it,” he said.
Alfred laughs again when asked if he can believe he is still walking.
“When people find out his age, and he finishes in front of them, they want pictures because he’s such an inspiration,” Darlene said.
Alfred is inspired by other race participants.
“I watch people who are handicapped and they finish the race, and I always think if they can do it, I can do it,” he said.
Family and friends looked up to him during a week-long celebration of his 90th birthday that started March 12 and ended March 19 with a family get-together including their children and spouses, 14 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
As Alfred looks outside March 14 where piles of snow fill their yard, he admits he is getting antsy to walk outside. With shoes he received for Christmas, he is set for another year of walking.
“Keep it up and don’t quit,” is advice Alfred has for others.
“I need to listen to my father’s advice,” Darlene said.
Every day is a good day for Ritter when he can farm, garden, color – and walk.