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Sammy Albers 'feels the warmth' at The Villa

Longtime Goodhue resident Sammy Albers, 93, is spending her first Christmas in the new remodeled Villa at St. Crispin Living Community. Ruth Nerhaugen / Contributor

Everybody likes Sammy, and the feeling is mutual.

"I like people, in general," Sammy Albers said — not just babies or relatives or neighbors. Everyone who walks through the door of her new home gets a smile, and it's clear that Albers' memory for faces and names is remarkable for a 93-year-old.

She is spending her first Christmas at The Villa, which is part of the St. Crispin Living Community on Pioneer Road.

Albers decided to make the move there from Goodhue after she fell and broke her shoulder last Christmas. Because of her age and general health, surgery was not an option. The shoulder did not heal properly.

"I felt I was not able to do what I should do to keep up at home," she said. So when her family broached the topic of moving into assisted living, she surprised them by announcing, "I'm way ahead of you. I've almost got my bags packed."

Albers figured her attitude toward people would help her make the transition. "It made the decision to move here much easier," she said.

It was a major change. Albers had spent 73 of her 93 years in Goodhue, and is well known around town.

She grew up on "an ordinary little old farm" in Holt, Minn., in the state's northwest corner. The third baby girl, she jokes that she got a boy's name because the hired man kept calling her Sam and it stuck.

After attending a two-room grade school, she wanted to go to high school and become a nurse or a teacher, but it was not to be. Instead, she came to Red Wing looking for work. She found a job at the Red Wing Shoe factory, but left at age 19 to marry Elroy Voth.

For most of their 46 years together, they lived on a crop and dairy farm about 3 miles east of Goodhue. They soon began raising a family.

"I had six children; the oldest was 5 1/2," she said. Two more were born a few years later, bringing the total to six girls and two boys.

"Can you imagine putting 10 plates on the table for three meals a day?" Albers asked.

After the children were grown she decided to go to work in town. Two things influenced her. "I always wanted to be with people," she said. And when her best friend and sister died, "I didn't know I could be so lonesome."

Albers applied at Deden's Café in downtown Goodhue. "I started to work and that filled the gap" for several years, she said.

When her husband had a stroke, she quit the café job and spent the next four years as his caretaker. They moved into town in 1988.

Following Voth's death in 1990, the folks at the café welcomed her back. "We know you're lonesome," they said. Albers worked at Deden's for another six years.

"I could do anything," she said, from opening the doors in the morning to mopping the floors at the close of day.

She never planned to remarry, but after several years single, she married a neighbor, Vernon Albers. Together, they became king and queen of the 1995 Goodhue Volksfest.

They had 16 1/2 years together, but for the last five-and-a-half years, he was affected by Parkinson's disease. As it progressed, Albers moved to Hi-Park, which is now The Villa, and later the nursing home section.

"During those years I spent a lot of time at the nursing home," including volunteer work in the activities department. "I know this place thoroughly," Albers said.

"I knew in my mind I was coming here" even before the family discussed it, she said.

She moved into an apartment at The Villa in October. "They were standing at the door waiting for me," she said. "What a welcome! ... I sure have a good group of friends here."

Albers likes that The Villa, which is affiliated with the nonprofit Benedictine Health System, offers her choices.

"I do a lot of my own cooking," she said, but she can choose to eat in the dining room. She does her own laundry, and enjoys being part of group activities. A devout Christian, she goes to Bible study. "And I sew doll clothes," Albers said — American Girl doll clothes for her great-grandchildren.

"It's really a homey situation. I feel the warmth here," she added.

The Villa recently underwent a remodeling, and St. Crispin Living Community will be opening new facilities in February that include a comprehensive care center in addition to independent, assisted living and enhanced living units.

From a practical view, Albers sees benefits in living at a place where additional services are available when she can no longer maintain her current level of independence.

"It's nice to need your children," she said, "but I know I can survive well if they can't get here, and I know they feel better" because she is at St. Crispin.

"How quickly it is we get up to 90," she mused. "I looked in the mirror one day and I had gotten old — but old happy.

"Ninety-three is a good age," she added. "You can do things that would have been a no-no when I was young. You can get by with eating your dessert first if you want.

"I've had a very fulfilled, happy life. In my old years, I tend to build on the good things."

In her first two months at The Villa, Albers has had company every day. That's not surprising, considering that she has eight children, four stepchildren, 37 grandchildren and step-grandchildren, about 50 great-grandkids and one great-great-grandchild.

Seven of her eight children are retired now. Two of them have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversaries "and I'm still here to be with them. That's special for me," Albers said.

Being at those golden anniversaries was one of her goals, and she's not done crossing things off her bucket list — like going on a hot air balloon ride at age 91.

In simple words, Albers said, "I intend to live until I die."