Near Elim Lutheran Church in Scandia lies Gammelgården (Swedish for Old Farm). The 11-acre museum includes a log house, barn and church that tell the story of Swedish immigrants who settled in Scandia.
Also near the church is Ruth Anderson’s place. It’s not a museum, but it could be. Here Ruth lives in a house her grandparents built.
The house has been updated over the years, but it still evokes memories of the past. The kitchen table was Ruth’s grandmother’s, and a rocking chair in the living room belonged to her husband’s parents. The beds are covered with quilts that Ruth made.
Outside her door is a much smaller building. Now a toolshed, this one-room building, less than 13 feet by 17 feet, is the log home Ruth’s grandparents built when they arrived from Sweden.
“Grandpa and Grandma Johnson and six kids lived here,” she said. “The kids slept in the loft. My mother was 11 years old when they came from Sweden. There were three boys and three girls.”
A barn, granary and other buildings, used when the place was a farm, still stand. “My dad and mother had a cow and chickens here,” she said.
There are three generations of history at Ruth’s place.
Living at home
Ruth has lived in Scandia for 100 years. She celebrated her 100th birthday at the Scandia Community Center on Oct. 23. More than 150 friends and neighbors turned out to wish her the best and to celebrate with her.
Ruth’s friends are rightfully proud of her. How many centenarians, after all, live at home alone?
She says her house is messy, but actually it’s clean and neat. Ruth cleans the house and plants the flowers. In the summer, geraniums grow in planter boxes by the front door. A fuchsia and rose begonias bloom in hanging baskets, and a blue hydrangea is planted in front of an oak.
The house is graced by many mature trees. Some were planted by Ruth and her husband, who bought the place after Ruth’s parents died.
One large evergreen, Ruth remembers, came from northern Minnesota.
“We’d been eating a picnic lunch. I dug up a baby tree with my hand and brought it home. It was about the time we moved here,” she said.
Her father planted two rows of evergreens along the driveway, and Ruth and her husband planted more along the fence.
“The hemlock was our Christmas tree,” she said. It grew by the front door until it got too big and had to be moved. Now the tree is huge, with multiple trunks.
Grape vines grow on the barn and bittersweet vines on the tool shed.
She rakes the leaves with help.
“It takes forever to haul them away. I used to put them in a rubber boat and haul them to the compost pile, but the boat wore out,” she said.
She gets help with other chores: She hires someone to mow the lawn. She buys a meal a day from the Scandia Café, delivered by Elim volunteers. And starting this year, her son Keith helps with keeping the bills paid on time.
But Ruth is very active. She attends the women’s group at church. Every Monday and Tuesday she spends at Elim with other volunteers, sewing quilts for Hennepin County Medical Center and the Children’s Home Society.
At home, she sews the baptismal towels given to families when babies are christened. She cuts a 9-by-12-inch linen rectangle, embroiders a cross and the word Elim, hand stitches a tiny hem on three sides and creates a fringe edge on the fourth side. Since the 1950s, Ruth has made more than 600 towels.
“I stopped counting in 2003,” she said.
And until recently she kept a garden. Each spring she planted four tomato plants and then canned the bounty in her kitchen.
“I’m happy because I can move,” Ruth said. “I’m so grateful I can move my own feet.”
Ruth’s mother was the oldest Johnson girl living in the log home. Her name was Albertina, but except for one confirmation classmate, everyone called her Tina.
“Uncle Axel used to go up in the woods and work in a lumber camp in the winter,” Ruth said.
When they grew up, the three brothers moved to Canada, where the two older ones, Axel and Carl, had wheat farms.
“They had big families, my first cousins,” Ruth said. “They’d come to visit once in a blue moon, and we visited them after I was married.”
Ruth’s mother, Tina, married another Axel: Axel Magnuson, who lived just down Oakhill road.
Axel and Tina raised their family in a farmhouse that still stands. Now Chris and Jessica Hansen live there with their children, Amelie and Isaiah. The Hansens are friends with Ruth, inviting her to their house and learning from her stories.
In that house, Axel and Tina Magnuson raised six daughters. Ruth and her sisters grew up speaking both Swedish and English. Ruth was confirmed in Swedish at Elim, where services were conducted in Swedish until World War II.
When she was 6, a new family moved to Scandia from Iowa. She found out later that the 16-year-old boy in that family went home from the Christmas Sunday School program at Elim and asked his mother, “Who is that cute little girl with the curls?” His mother knew the answer: Ruthie May Magnuson. Fifteen years later, they were married.
“He waited for me to grow up,” she said.
Les and Ruth Anderson lived on a farm about 5 miles from downtown Scandia, near Bone Lake. Their son Keith was born there.
At that time, Ruth’s parents were living in the Johnson house.
“My dad lived here alone five years after mother died,” she said. “He died up at church.”
The family was in the habit of walking to church. “He went down to the basement for Lutheran Brotherhood in the evening and died there,” she said.
Keith was 11 when Ruth’s dad died. Les was working at Cream of Wheat in Minneapolis. They bought the Johnson-Magnuson place and quit farming. Until he retired, Les drove from Scandia to Minneapolis to work.
Les died in 1982.
“He was a good guy,” Ruth said.
Keith Anderson lives with his wife in Lindstrom, and Ruth’s niece Laurel Johnson lives nearby. Her sister Luella Johnson died just before Christmas, leaving Ruth the only sister left of the Magnuson girls. She has no grandchildren, but many relatives.
She stopped driving a few years ago, when her car clunked.
“I walked a lot, to church, even in the winter,” she said.
Ruth’s friend Jody Hornburg calls every day to see how she is, drives her to church and takes her to Forest Lake once a week for shopping.
Ruth has had falls, and after one she spent a week at Parmly. Folks have urged her to move, but she resists.
“I like living here,” she said.