Smooth Sailing at 105

Pat Marble with one of her chickens. (Photo by Peg Wiklund)

The themes throughout the varied experiences of Pat Marble’s long life are about being comfortable, inquisitive, and interested in the spaces around her. 

Marble was born in Indiana in 1912 and lived in a city, but learned to squirrel hunt with her father and uncle. At 16, she met a farm family that enabled her to “get her nose into everything,” spending weekends at their “playground” learning how to butcher chickens, drive a tractor, make lard, stuff sausage, and harness a horse. 

By her 30s, she was raising children in frigid northern Minnesota with no electricity or running water. 

At 65, she was forced to leave her job because corporate policy said women could not work past that age. She was “a little teed off that the men could work longer,” and almost boycotted her own retirement party. She got her first passport in her late 60s, toured Europe and spent three months in Thailand. 

Recently, Marble scored a perfect 29 hand in cribbage and acted as ballast in a sled for a grandchild’s winter strength-training exercises. She coaches how to bake bread from scratch, makes stained glass lamps by hand, and raises and butchers her own chickens. 

This spring, Marble meticulously tracked a 4,401-mile road trip with her daughter, Peg Wiklund. Marble created an itinerary so she could see the world’s first bread-slicing machine in Missouri and marvel at manatees in Florida. The two eventually found themselves visiting relatives in Indiana. When Wiklund pulled out of the South Bend driveway, intending to head back to their house in Richfield, she asked her mother if she was ready to return home. Marble replied, “Not really.” 

Thus began an impromptu detour through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Sault Ste. Marie.

The Great North

Marble spends her summers in northern Minnesota, where she bathes outdoors and intends to celebrate her 106th birthday in August. She originally moved to the area in 1945 to live among pine trees, which a doctor said would help her husband’s lung condition. The two of them bought a simple resort property with rustic cabins on Island Lake, nestled between Bemidji and International Falls. Her children walked to a country schoolhouse. Marble says she and her husband “enjoyed early fall, when we could go fishing. The kids were in school and we had our days to ourselves and could roam in the woods when the leaves were turning.” 

After running the resort for 10 years, the family moved to the Twin Cities area for better job opportunities.

Marble learned to kayak for the first time just before age 90, with a grandchild. She says, “When you kayak, you are low in the water. You look down and there are so many things to see.” Less than a week after ice-out this year, Marble was on the lake. 

Last year while kayaking, she says, “There was a strong wind. A little duck was isolated and trying to swim out of the way of a motor boat, which went fast and then stopped, sending a big wave toward the little duck. I put my hand out and it swam into my hand. I’ve handled chicks of course, but the feeling of that little duck was the sweetest of all, as it was fighting for its life. The waves went down and I set him back in the water. There are just so many glorious things out there!”

Marble has three children, 11 grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild. They include mountain climbers, world travelers, anglers, skiers, environmentalists, hikers, bikers, and backpackers. As her daughter puts it, “We all prefer to hang out around the woods and nature. Well, mostly! Everybody likes a little adventure. Because you gotta keep up with mom and grandma.”

Marble advises people to “find out what other people are about” and says that if travelers “get to know the people in the country they are visiting, they are so much better off when they return home.”