St. Wenceslaus ‘treasure’ continues to make a difference

The historic home in which Esther Ellspermann lives — built 149 years ago — was less than 50 years old when she was born there on Jan. 13, 1915.

One of her secrets to living to 100, almost 101 now, is simple.

"I entertain a lot," she said. "I like parties."

In September, she hosted a dozen people for an indoor picnic at her home. Over the years, guests have included the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood from St. Agatha Parish, and she likes to get together with a group with which she made frequent retreats at White House Jesuit Retreat.

She enjoys reading and makes photo frames as gifts for families with newborns.

Ellspermann, of German heritage on both sides of her family and the youngest of five girls and four boys, was baptized at St. Agnes Church in south St. Louis and went to school there. She attended Roosevelt High School, Harris Teachers College and Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

She served as an officer in the Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) in World War II; a school teacher who taught 1,390 children, including first- and second-graders at Clinton Peabody School in St. Louis for 39 years; and as a friend of a boatload of people.

She became a parishioner at St. Wenceslaus in her 20s and has been there ever since. The parish celebrated a Mass for her 100th birthday, with more than 130 people attending. A former member of the St. Louis Youth Symphony organized music for the Mass.

"I like the people (St. Wenceslaus); they're all very friendly," she said.

In the WAVES, she was sent to Virginia for communications training. She was transferred to Columbus, Ohio, then Philadelphia where she worked in the code room and eventually to Astoria, Ore., where she worked in a hospital. In the Armed Forces, she became friends with several people of other faiths, including a Baptist woman.

One memory is President Harry S. Truman's visit to the Naval Air Station at Lambert Field. The WAVES lined up to meet him, and she shook his hand. But he missed greeting some of the WAVES, so she spoke up and asked him to shake hands with all of the women, which he did.

Ellspermann worked in the insurance field for a bit before going back to teaching. Her students were well-behaved for the most part, she said, and she liked to teach about personal responsibility.

A few students have kept in touch with her, including one whose mother kept notes and cards she had sent to students' homes. Her favorite activity was a Christmas play she organized each year. She retired at age 64.

To keep healthy, she rode an exercise bike for more than 4,000 miles. She rode for about 6 miles a day. "That wasn't hard," she said. "I'd sit by the window and say my Rosaries."

Ellspermann has done a lot of traveling, and collected charms from the places she visited, such as a pilot's wheel from Mississippi and a Statue of Liberty from New York, for a bracelet.

"I got so many charms that I had a necklace," she said. "Then I got so many more that I had another necklace. Then I put them on a bracelet."

She has enjoyed cruises especially. She has stories from everywhere, including one about a doctor from Italy who treated her sister for a heart ailment. He wasn't in when they went to his office, so he visited their hotel and did a great job of treating her. He was worried about their long stay while her sister recovered, and offered to help.

In an interview with The Messenger, magazine of the Missionaries of the Holy Family, Ellspermann called herself "an unclaimed treasure" because she always has been single. She noted that if she could, she'd end the abortion holocaust and that if God would grant her one wish, it would be an easy pick: "Eternal salvation."

Ellspermann appreciates what an 80-year-old woman once said in reply to a person who told her she's had a wonderful life: "Don't you past tense me!"

We'll remember that in the future. 

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