One-hundred and three years is a long time to be alive. Almost too long, one could argue.
But for Mildred Monke, it was a 103-year journey filled with more adventure and challenges than I or many others will likely ever experience in a lifetime.
In June of 1912, Mildred became the first Monke of her generation to be born in North Dakota. She grew up on a farm just down the road from the one where I grew up, but in a wholly different world. She was college-aged by the Dust Bowl years and knew the rigors of living in the country long before cars, satellite TV and Internet connected farm kids to the world.
Millie, a deeply religious woman, wanted nothing more in life but to meet her maker and to be with her family once again. Last Sunday, her wish finally was fulfilled when she passed away following a short but difficult bout with an infection. On Friday morning, we held her funeral at St. John Lutheran Church, where she spent several years as secretary and faithful parishioner.
She outlived two brothers and three cousins, and dozens of relatives and friends, and traveled the world long before the world was easy to travel.
Millie never married and spent 23 of the best years of her life — during which time many of her peers formed families and had children — giving her time and energy to others in India where she served as a Lutheran missionary, mostly taking care of children and the disabled for very meager earnings. I often wonder if the time she spent in India helped prolong her life exponentially, both in a physical and mental sense.
Because so many of our older generation here in Dickinson knew Millie for her work with the church and with various government agencies, last week I was asked several times how we were related.
Mildred and my grandpa Clarence were double cousins. Their fathers, both from Illinois originally, married sisters from their hometown and moved to North Dakota when their father purchased farmland for them. Though they were cousins, Mildred and Clarence acted more like siblings — especially later in life after so many other relatives had passed, including Millie’s mother Sophie at 101 years old.
So to us, she has always been “Great Aunt Mildred.”
It was obvious that the bond between my grandpa and Millie grew stronger as they came to terms with their mortality. When grandpa died two Christmases ago at 93, it left Millie as the last of her generation. When she was told of my grandpa’s passing, you could tell it hurt her. There were many times she told us and others that she was ready to meet her God.
Because I only knew her later in her life, most Mildred stories naturally were ones told to me by my family or her friends and acquaintances. But perhaps what impressed me the most about Mildred is that in her early 90s, she decided to sit down at a laptop computer and write a 110-page book, “North Dakota to India: Memoirs of a Missionary.”
She wrote of her time growing up on the farm. She talked about the conflict she faced as a 20-something who didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life — a problem just as real in the 1930s as it is today — which led to her decision to go to India. She wrote endlessly about the people who kept her there so long. She wrote of the cities and places she saw in the Middle East, including Mount Everest, and the trips she took across the United States, including to both Hawaii and Alaska in her retirement years.
Though her book contains many inspiring anecdotes and moments, Mildred perhaps summed up her life best in a sentence she wrote 20 years ago during her funeral planning. “Mildred leaves this world confident in the promises of her Lord and Savior, and in the great thanksgiving and praise for friends and relatives who made life meaningful and good.”
From the beginning to the end, Millie was a faithful woman. Faithful to her God, and to her family and friends. In many ways, she exemplified what she all hope to be.
We’ll miss you Millie. Thank you for everything!