Muriel Jensen, of Slave Lake, celebrated her 100th birthday on January 5, 2020.
“If you want to be 100 years old you have to take care of yourself,” she says. “I never smoked, and I’ve never used liquor, and I never lived on soft drinks.”
Along with avoiding those things, she ate garden vegetables and sauerkraut.
“I made lots of sauerkraut,” she says. “If I didn’t have it, I didn’t have a meal. It’s good for you; very very good for you.”
Muriel is the eldest child of Robert Townsend and Hattie Townsend, nee Forsyth. She was born in the kitchen on her parents farm on January 5, 1920. A midwife delivered her.
When Muriel was born, her mother was 19 or 20, says Muriel. Her brother was born a year-and-a-half later. Her sister and youngest brother later.
“My mom and dad were raised in Ontario,” says Muriel.
In 1910, Muriel’s father Robert was 17, says a family history. He moved west from Ontario to help his brother on his homestead near Pinkham, Saskatchewan. Robert farmed with oxen and later horses.
Hattie moved to the area in 1917, with her mother and one sibling.
“Grandma, she came west with two children,” Muriel says.
Robert and Hattie met an fell in love in 1918.
In the early 1900s, Saskatchewan had the largest population of any province in Canada, says Muriel’s son Darrell. Every quarter section had a family living on it and most had eight to 10 children.
“I grew up on the farm,” Muriel says. “We used to have beautiful gardens.” There was always fresh vegetables, pork, beef, and turkey, from the farm.
Muriel went to Pinkham School, in the small town of Pinkham. She completed Grade 12.
“I was the only student that got Grade 12 that year,” she says.
After high school, she went to what was then called ‘normal’ school, which is a college. She was 18 when she started her teaching certificate. There weren’t teaching degrees then. In the 1960s, when she was a mother of three children, with 25 years of teaching experience, Muriel upgraded to a teaching degree.
Her first school was a country school called Forest View School, close to Birkdale, Sask. At that time, she boarded at a local farm. This was where she met her future husband, Ralph Jensen, in 1939.
“Where I was boarding, the girl there was going with Stanley, Ralph’s brother,” Muriel says. There was a country dance, “Ralph wanted a partner, and he asked me to go.”
Ralph and Muriel married in 1941. They have three sons. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
Ralph was a farmer.
“He thought he’d make a fortune growing alfalfa,” Muriel says. “The crop’d be good, then we’d get frost.”
There were times when the only food in the house was enough flour to make a batch of pancakes. Muriel didn’t like this, so she returned to teaching.
“They hired me to teach in the public school in Tisdale,” she says. “I was to teach Grades 4 and 5. The principal came to me and said, ‘we need a teacher in Grade 9. Would you come?’ I said, ‘provided you let me teach algebra.’ ‘Yes, you can teach algebra,’ the principal said. I taught there for 25 years.”
At one time, the school had 400 students.
In the 1960s, the principal told Muriel he felt bad that he couldn’t pay her as much as teachers with degrees.
The school board was willing to pay half or three-quarters of her wages while she upgraded if she agreed to return and teach another two years.
The family lived in Saskatoon for two years while she upgraded, around 1965.
“That was the year we moved to Saskatoon, so I could go to university,” Muriel says. “I had children then. Shane (her youngest), was four or five years old.”
Muriel taught for 40 years. She retired in 1980.
“I thought I’d retired,” she says, “but when I retired, I’d get up at five in the morning to bake bread. I couldn’t stop working.”
Muriel is very proud of her former students, 100 of whom sent her cards for her 100th birthday.
“It doesn’t matter which part of the world you go to, you’ll find some Tisdale students,” she says. “Being a teacher, I think I’ve had a satisfying life.”
After retirement, Muriel initiated the couple’s move to Cold Lake, Alberta.
“We can move up to where Darrell is, and I’m going to work in the store,” Muriel told Ralph.
Muriel worked in their son Darrell’s shoe store, Appara Shoes. Muriel’s granddaughter Dawn Jensen owns Appara Shoes in Slave Lake.
When Darrell went on business trips to Denmark and Germany, Muriel ran the store.
Ralph died of cancer in 1997.
“I lived in my own home there (Cold Lake), for a long time after Ralph died,” Muriel says. “The neighbour lady, her house was right next to mine, she got my groceries for me and fixed anything that needed done. I always told her she’s an angel.”
July 2017, at the age of 97, Muriel moved out of her home. She moved to Vanderwell Lodge in Slave Lake, because there was no room for her in seniors’ housing in Cold Lake.
Two of Muriel’s sons live in Saskatchewan, and the other in Cold Lake.
“I’ve got eight grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, and there’s no great-greats yet,” says Muriel.
Muriel’s family surprised her with a 100th birthday party right on her birthday. Two of her three sons, various grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and a nephew attended.
“I couldn’t have had a better anniversary,” she says.