Ask Lena Dick how she’s doing and her response is typically, “As good as I can.” That’s saying a lot given that Dick, of Mountain Lake, Minn., will gather with her family this weekend to celebrate her 112th birthday.
Informal research confirms that Dick, who is ninth on Wikipedia’s list of U.S. supercentenarians, is the oldest living member of a U.S. Mennonite Brethren church. She is also likely the oldest Mennonite in either Canada or the United States.
Dick, the daughter of Isaac D. and Cornelia “Nellie” Peters Schultz, was born August 5, 1905 in Midway Township, Minnesota and has lived in this community for her entire life.
She married Jacob Dick on April 26, 1934. Lena says the couple chose that date because it was Jacob’s birthday—that way he wouldn’t forget the couple’s anniversary.
Jacob and Lena raised their three children, Alvin, Dorothy and Willard, on the farm. When Jacob retired from farming in 1972, the couple moved to Mountain Lake. Jacob died in 1987, two weeks shy of his 85th birthday. Lena continued to live in their home until 2011 when she moved to The Lodge, an assisted living facility in Mountain Lake. In July 2017, Lena moved to Good Samaritan Village where she receives skilled nursing care.
Lena came to know Jesus as her Savior in her late teens or early 20s when a spiritual revival took place in the Mountain Lake community. The importance of that decision is evident even today. When asked this week about her earliest memory, Lena says, “Well, when I was saved, the burden rolled away.”
Following her conversion, Lena was baptized and joined the local Christian and Missionary Alliance Church where her parents were attending. Years later when Lena was talking with 12-year-old Willard about being baptized, she summarized the reason for baptism as a desire to “be like Jesus.”
From son Willard’s description of his mother, Lena exemplified her Savior. Asked to describe his mother in a few words, Willard speaks of Lena as patient, loving and forgiving. “She is a woman of prayer,” Willard adds.
He talks about her giving spirit and the joy she found for many years in sharing her baking and cooking. “She enjoyed having people over for a meal,” says Willard. “She would say, ‘I do the cooking and Dad does the conversing.’” She passed her love of hosting guests to her daughter, Dorothy, says Willard.
After her marriage, Lena joined the Mountain Lake MB Church, now Community Bible Church, where she was involved in the women’s mission society, sang in the women’s chorus and served with Jacob on the church’s relief committee. Reflecting on his mother’s church involvements, Willard says, “She was not the chair or the spokesperson, but she was a busy worker bee. She was not one to seek self-glory.”
While her doctors describe Lena as in good health, she is 112. Crocheting was an enduring hobby—she crocheted afghans for each grandchild—until two years ago when her hands no longer cooperated with the task. Her gardening days are over, but Lena’s appreciation for nature remains and she comments on the beauty of the trees and flowers she sees.
Lena participates in the activities held at the nursing home, such as Bingo and a Bible study. She also rests regularly and has some hearing issues. Due to her poor eyesight, Lena reads a large print Bible and devotional book. In fact, reading her Bible is now one of Lena’s favorite pursuits.
Much has changed in the last 112 years. When asked about the changes she’s seen in her lifetime, Lena recalls traveling to church as a child in a horse-drawn buggy—and the advancements that allowed her to fly with Jacob to Amsterdam, Netherlands, for the 1967 Mennonite World Conference. From the Netherlands, the couple flew to Israel for a tour of the Holy Lands and in 1985, they visited missionary friends in Brazil.
Lena also remembers that those early buggy rides were done without the benefit of headlights or streetlights to help her father guide the horses. She recalls her father letting loose of the reins and allowing the horses to find their own way home. Given the total darkness, Lena isn’t sure how her parents were able light the lamps once they arrived home. Today, she says, you just flip the light switch.
Willard speaks of his mother’s willingness to ask her grandchildren spiritually challenging questions and of her ability to use only a few words to convey deep truths. That gift was evident when Lena was asked what advice she would give a young person. Her answer: “Read the Bible. Trust the Lord.”