Shoreline resident, Helen Knavel, turns 108 January 24

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Helen Knavel, 108 on January 24
Photo by Luanne Brown

By Luanne Brown

January 24, 2019 - Today is a very special day for Shoreline resident Helen Knavel. It’s her 108th birthday.

Born on this day in 1911, on her 240-acre family farm outside of Aplington, Iowa, Mrs. Knavel was the fifth of eight children born to her parents, Wiard "William" Klaas Harken and Harmke Frerichs. Her four sisters and three brothers worked on the farm and went to a country school.

“I like to spend time reminiscing these days,” she said, a soft smile on her face, “and remember playing ‘house’ outside with my sister, Sarah.

Helen Knavel of Shoreline
turns 108 Thursday

These days, Helen lives in a sunny one-room apartment attached to the Shoreline house of her son, Bill Knavel. “Bill is a good son. He built this place for me to live in and he did a beautiful job.” She moved here 16 years ago after living in Smokey Point for 23 years.

Mrs. Knavel had the same doctor for 20 years and before he retired a few years back at 65, he told her, “Helen, I have never seen anyone as healthy as you at 106.” 

Mrs. Knavel isn’t exactly sure how she’s managed to reach this age. “It might be heredity. My mother lived to 96 and she might have lived longer if she had modern medication.” She also had an aunt who lived to 98.

Although suffering from macular degeneration, Mrs. Knavel likes to stay busy. “My mother used to say, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way’ and I’m a fighter, so I do what I can to stay healthy and mobile. I don’t want to be bound to a chair, like so many older people, so I do exercises everyday—and some of them aren’t easy! But I do them. I also work large-print crossword puzzles and do jigsaw puzzles.” 

She also has a big screen television and says that she can still see colors well, so she enjoys watching television and she cooks her own food. “I eat my vegetables,” she said, “and some chicken, but no red meat, to keep my cholesterol down.”

“I also do my chores,” she said, pointing to a tidy collection of crystal curios in a nearby cabinet, and her pristine kitchen with a lovely collection of African violets on a window sill over the sink.

George and Helen Knavel
She developed her outstanding cleaning skills working as a maid when she moved from her family farm at age 18 to the town of Dumont, Iowa.

There she met her friend, Henrietta, who introduced her to her future husband, George, who was Henrietta’s brother. They married in 1936 and moved to Waterloo, where she worked for a company that manufactured sports clothes.

When WWII started, the factory switched to making fatigue jackets for the military. Then in 1943, her husband got the “bug” to move West. But because they weren’t sure they wanted to stay, they held onto their house, so they’d have a place to come back to. “Eventually, we sold it a few years later,” she said.

Her husband went to work in the shipyard, and she went to welding school, working in Everett for about a year until their first son, Gary was born.

The war years were tough on the family. “Everything was rationed, and it was hard to get commodities,” Mrs. Knavel said. 

After the war, life was good for many years until her husband died at the age of 39, leaving her to raise Gary, and his younger brother, Bill, on her own. “My husband’s company, Scott Paper, was good to me. They knew I needed a job so I could take care of our boys, and they gave me one. And I worked there for 20 years.”

Tragedy struck again when Gary was killed shortly before his 21st birthday. Stationed in Germany, he died in an accident while loading machinery for storage.

“He was a good son. He wrote me every month. He would have made someone a good husband and he would have been a good father, but he never got a chance.” Sometimes, she still talks to him, and says, “Gary, I’m still carrying a part of you in my heart.”

For her birthday, today, she and her son, Bill, will celebrate by having a turkey dinner — her favorite meal.

Please join us in wishing Mrs. Knavel a happy birthday, by leaving a message for her in the comment section below.


Janis January 24, 2019 at 5:21 AM  

Happy Birthday, Mrs. Knavel! I enjoyed reading about your life. You have a wonderful outlook and I admire your spirit and I hope you have a wonderful day celebrating your 108th birthday!

Anonymous,  January 24, 2019 at 6:37 AM  

Happy Birthday Mrs. Knavel!!

Silje January 24, 2019 at 6:52 AM  

I enjoyed reading the story of your life and hope you have a wonderful birthday!,  January 24, 2019 at 7:10 AM  

Happy happy birthday Mrs. Knavel. May this be the best turkey dinner ever!

Unknown January 24, 2019 at 7:20 AM  

Thanks for sharing. Happy Birthday!

Dana January 24, 2019 at 7:34 AM  

Happiest of Birthdays, Helen!

Heidi Lynne' Yoga and Wellness January 24, 2019 at 7:38 AM  

Happy Birthday Helen! You are an inspiration.

Luanne Brown January 24, 2019 at 8:35 AM  

Helen, it was a delight to meet you yesterday. I hope you have a very happy birthday today. All the best to you!

Anonymous,  January 24, 2019 at 8:40 AM  

Have a lovely birthday! My cousin is 101 and also enjoys crosswords!

Unknown January 24, 2019 at 8:56 AM  

Wishing you a very Happy Birthday, Helen and many more.

Unknown January 24, 2019 at 8:57 AM  

Wishing you a very happy Birthday, Helen!

quoi January 24, 2019 at 10:07 AM  

Happy birthday, Helen! Congratulations and all the best for another good year.

Unknown January 24, 2019 at 5:33 PM  

You are amazing and an inspiration! The very best to you

Unknown January 24, 2019 at 6:38 PM  

Happy Birthday Helen. You have always had a special place in my heart. You are a remarkable woman. Love You Susan Caywood Fenner

Unknown January 24, 2019 at 8:20 PM  

Happy Birthday Mrs. Knavel! I hope you have a wonderful birthday cake too!

Unknown January 24, 2019 at 9:56 PM  

Happy Birthday!!!! really awesome

Anonymous,  January 24, 2019 at 11:26 PM  

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!�� Helen you are an inspiration. Wishing you many more years full of love and laughter.
It's my Birthday today too. ☺ ~ Sue Brangwin

Unknown January 25, 2019 at 5:07 PM  

Happy Birthday Aunt Helen! Have a wonderful day!
Shelley Renken (Norma's oldest daughter)

Gary Knavel January 26, 2019 at 12:36 AM  

I've known this amazing woman all my 51 years... She's been my best friend for all of it but as well. The only person who's always known exactly who I am. Never given up on me or let me down in anyway. She sat through many cold Saturdays watching my soccer games... Played many basketball games at the church and countless packs of football and baseball cards... Summers in Iowa were the best... But most of all just us being together was always the best moments of my life.. your the only person I've never questioned loving me. HecBeca of one reason...
I didn't have to..
I've always known.

Unknown January 26, 2019 at 8:52 AM  

Happy Birthday Helen !!! So glad you are still with us... this is Dorothy Mattox's - Maryanne's son David.

Anonymous,  January 27, 2019 at 11:53 AM  

Happy birthday, Mrs Knavel! What an amazing and inspirational story! Wishing you all the best!

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