A life of determination

Elsie Mitchell
Elsie Mitchell in her Edina residence. (Photo by Lisa Kaczke – Sun Newspapers)

Elsie Mitchell has had a good life, but she’s not done yet.

“I think I’m having more fun than before I was 100,” she said.

The Edina resident’s determination and defiance have been traits she’s shown throughout her 102 years, from receiving an education against her father’s wishes to convincing Fairview Southdale Hospital to let her begin volunteering at age 90.

“I think the life I’ve led has been good for me,” she said, adding that she needs to knock on wood to avoid tempting life.

Mitchell grew up as the daughter of Swedish immigrants, on a farm in Buffalo, Minn., without any running water or electricity.

She was one of six children and after her mother died, her father relied on the children to help out around the farm.

“We were his hired hands,” she said.

When it came time for high school, however, her father put his foot down.

“My father said, ‘High schools are for men,’” she recalled. “But when Sept. 2 came around… I said, ‘I’m going to high school,’ and I walked out that door and went to high school.”

She had a tough time and had to take jobs as a waitress while in high school. Her sister then called her and said she found a job for her out in California. She took the job, working in a doctor’s office for the next 25 years.

She married her husband, the late Clarence “Mitch” Mitchell, who was a Los Angeles police officer.

“We had one date, then we had two dates, and the rest of life was dates,” she said.

They worked hard throughout their marriage and saved their pennies. They were honest and thrifty. They put an amount in the bank to save every paycheck, she said, adding that it’s important for people to save money throughout their life.

Mitchell became an astute bridge player, but one day, she’d had enough.

“I smashed the deck of cards down on the table and said, ‘Goodbye, bridge!’” she said.

She applied to volunteer at Fairview Southdale Hospital the next day. The hospital staff was at first apprehensive about letting an 90-year-old volunteer, but with some nudging from her niece, they agreed.

“At first the volunteer coordinator didn’t know what to think, but then again, they had never met someone like Elsie,” Fairview Southdale Hospital President Brad Beard said. “Her determination and energy was infectious. She became a valued volunteer and continued until she was age 96.”

She volunteered a total of 650 hours at the hospital before her heart troubles forced her to stop.

But she still felt the desire to bring peace and contentment to people. She contacted Fairview Southdale Hospital’s foundation and said she wanted to donate to the foundation. The result was the Elsie O. Mitchell Meditation Sanctuary at the hospital.

“It was through working with patients and their families that she saw how important a place of solitude, sanctuary and peace is to patients and families when they are going through challenging situations. This is where her wish to establish the meditation sanctuary came to life,” Beard said.

When staff used the word “peace” to describe the area they needed funded, Mitchell said she knew it was what she wanted to spend the money on that she and her husband spent their life saving.

She pauses, reflecting on the century she’s lived, “It seems like an awful lot of years. But I don’t feel one day different than I did at 69 years old.”