Ethel Fobbe remembers 100 years in Maple Lake


“I remember when the neighbors first got a car with windows in it,” Ethel Fobbe recalled with a smile as she sat comfortably in an armchair at her home in  Maple Lake Manor. “They were driving around town, honking their horn.”
Fobbe is full of stories that begin with “I remember when . . .” and “in my day.”
It’s not surprising, really, at nearly 100 years old, Fobbe has a lot of stories stored away in her memory. Stories about the days of Prohibition when her father’s saloon business was put out of business when Minnesota became a dry state; stories about the bustling community Maple Lake used to be with three grocery stores, cafes and a movie theater; and the evolution of technology that brought her electricity, television and her first refrigerator.
“There have certainly been a lot of changes,” she said.
Fobbe is the fifth oldest and only remaining child of 12 brothers and sisters, and she has lived her entire life in Maple Lake. On Tuesday, May 12, she will turn 100 years old.
Her family and friends will help her celebrate her long life on Sunday, May 17, at an open house at the American Legion Club in Maple Lake from 2 to 5 p.m.
It was a different world when Fobbe was young. Cars were really just “buggies with a motor.” Her neighbors were the first people she knew to own a car with windows.
Fobbe was born in 1915 to Thomas and Annie Smith in her family’s home in Maple Lake. Back then her dad made a living as a saloon owner.
“I used to have a picture of dad at the saloon with all these spittoons lined up along the wall. I guess it wasn’t very sanitary,” she laughed.
When Prohibition started, the family moved to the city’s outskirts on County Road 7 and began farming. In 1939 Fobbe married her childhood friend, Roy.
“We knew each other all our lives,” Fobbe said. “Our parents were good friends.”
The couple was married only six months when they moved out to Roy’s family farm to help take care of his father and nephews. His mother had died in childbirth.
For many years the family didn’t even have electricity, and when they finally did get it, Fobbe remembers thinking, “oh, it can’t get any better than this.” Eventually they became one of the first families in the area to get a refrigerator.
The Fobbes farmed until 1950 when they moved back into Maple Lake. That’s where they raised their six children, Mary, Marge, Patty, Bob, Barb and Lori. That was also when they got their first television.
Fobbe wasn’t too impressed.
She remembers turning on the black and white set and a western was playing.
“All I heard was a bunch of cows bawling,” she said.
Maple Lake itself was a lot different back then, too. Fobbe remembers a time when the small town was populated with hardware stores, a clothing store, a couple of grocery stores and, at one point, there was even a hotel where the American Legion is now, she said.
But there is more to Fobbe than just stories.
“She is a good woman,” her daughter, Patty Purcell, said. “Whenever somebody was sick she would bake them cookies or be taking them soup. She is always nice, always giving to other people.”
Getting a gift of food from Fobbe was always appreciated as she was reportedly a very good cook and everybody knew it.
“A lot of visitors would come by for her homemade bread,” her daughter, Barb Menth, recalled.
Fobbe was also known for her chicken dinners and a lot of memories were made around the table on Sundays, her daughters said. She also makes really good carrot cake, Menth added.
In 1988, her husband, Roy died. It wasn’t her first loss. A pair of twins suffered the same fate years earlier. The first infant lived for only an hour and the second survived just long enough to be baptized.
Today, Fobbe is the proud grandmother of 18 grandchildren, 33 greatgrandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren.
She is a very big fan of the Maple Lake Lakers baseball team – her son, Bobbie, and two grandsons have played for them – is a member of St. Timothy Catholic Church, the Council of Catholic women and the Ladies Auxiliary.
“I have no desire to live anywhere else. Maple Lake is where my family is,” Fobbe said.