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Sisters reunite at the Christian Community Campus

Ruth O. Johnson, 97, and Myrtle E. Pedersen, 95, are under the same roof again nearly 80 years after they last shared a home with their parents in Grand Forks, N.D.

Their new home is the Christian Community Campus, where Johnson has an apartment in the Pine Ridge assisted living complex and Pedersen is a resident of the Christian Community nursing home just down the hall.

"I think it's going good," the spritely Johnson said during a visit last week with a reporter and her granddaughter Jenna Eckholm.

The sisters had just come from beauty shop appointments and wore snappy outfits to compliment their styled, snowy hair.

Johnson, a former nurse and minister's wife, and Pedersen, a retired English professor, are enjoying daily visits with each other these days.

They also take in retirement home activities together -- the exercise sessions, craft work, concerts, birthday parties, the popcorn happy hour on Fridays and Sunday church services.

"We look forward to seeing each other," said Johnson, very engaged in the conversation. She is the more talkative of the two sisters.

Myrtle has some hearing loss that makes communication more difficult. But she, too, is very alert and willing to converse.

Johnson and Pedersen are in Hudson because of Eckholm, who came to the city eight years ago with her husband, Brian. They live on Laurel Avenue with their daughter Jacey, 8, and son Mason, 6.

The Eckholms work together at I Meridian, a credit card services company located in Hudson's St. Croix Business Park. Jenna is the company's vice president of operations and Brian is the director of U.S. sales.

Jenna Eckholm's mother died five years ago of ALS, a nerve-destroying illness also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Her mother was Johnson's only child, and when Johnson's husband, Cliff, passed away two years ago at the age of 95, Eckholm took on the role of her grandmother's guardian.

Johnson lived with the Eckholms for eight months before moving into her Pine Ridge apartment in May 2007.

"I needed to be close to her, and it was just easier," Eckholm said.

Before coming to Hudson, Johnson and her husband lived independently in a Bloomington, Minn., condominium. The Rev. Cliff Johnson was still driving a car at age 95.

"I miss my dear husband dearly. And there's not much I can do about it," Johnson said. Her sweet disposition and warm smile make her the ideal grandmother.

Cliff was the longtime pastor at Oak Grove Lutheran Church in Richfield, Minn. Ruth worked as a nurse at the Martin Luther Manor senior living campus in Bloomington.

Eckholm's parents, Ellen and Dale Strom, met as fifth-graders singing in the children's choir at Oak Grove Lutheran.

Dale Strom is a retired Richfield High School teacher and principal.

"Since I have lost my mother, these two have sort of stepped in as grandma to my kids, for sure. And there are little pieces of mothering going on occasionally," Eckholm said. "It's really been a nice relationship for all of us, because we've all had losses."

Pedersen was forced leave the Grand Forks home where she and Johnson spent part of their childhoods by the flood of 1997.

Pedersen never married and continued to live in the family home after the sisters' parents, the Rev. Ludvig and Marie Pedersen, died.

She attended the University of North Dakota, earning both bachelor's and master's degrees, and then taught English at the university for more than 50 years.

Pedersen's eyes lit up and she chuckled when asked to name a favorite author.

"Every author became a favorite," she said.

She still reads fiction for pleasure, she said.

Eckholm said Pedersen was a beloved professor, judging from the letters from former students she has found among her belongings.

Pedersen resided in an assisted living facility in Bloomington for 10 years before coming to Christian Community Home in July. She was on a waiting list for 10 months before a place opened up for her at the Hudson nursing home.

Eckholm is thankful that her grandmother and great aunt can be together, and close to her and her family.

"I've been so pleased with the staff here at Pine Ridge and CCH," she said. "Everybody here is very proactive and wanting to make sure that they are being taken care of."

"I agree," Johnson announced. "I like it here. Very much so."

And what does she like about the Christian Community Campus?

"It's the friendliness," she said.

Johnson said of Eckholm, "She's a gem."

"Thank you, grandma," came the reply.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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