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Looking back, Farmington woman sees a life worth remembering

Betty Kronberg likes her new home at Trinity Care Center in Farmington.

Betty Kronberg worries sometimes that she spends too much time reminiscing. Like maybe she should spend more time focused on the present than on the past.

Still, there are times when the very social Kronberg can't find someone to talk to at Trinity Care Center. Those are the times she tends to start looking backwards. And maybe that's not such a bad thing. She's got some good memories to think of.

"You're very fortunate if the things you're thinking back at were as wonderful as what mine was," said Kronberg, who is now 90.

Kronberg was raised in Beatrice, Neb., near the state's border with Kansas. She went to high school in nearby Superior and graduated in 1940. At the time, her parents could only afford to send one of their two children to college. Her father chose her younger brother, so Kronberg went to business school and found work as a bookkeeper.

"I liked my job very, very much," she said. "You wouldn't leave until you have a balance in your books. That was a challenge and I like a challenge."

She was 23 when she got married to a man 18 months her junior. He was serving in the Air Force at the time, and they moved frequently. It was during one of those moves, to a city in Oklahoma, that Kronberg got a first-hand look at what segregation could be like. Without thinking, she would find herself using the wrong water fountain, or sitting in the back of the movie theater. Once, riding a bus, she offered to give up her seat to a black woman.

"I thought I was gonna get thrown off that bus," she said. "I was one of those people that sort of tripped into things. I didn't mean to."

When her husband left the Air Force, the family - she has two daughters and a son - settled back in Nebraska. He thought his job at International Harvester would be waiting for him when he returned home, but it wasn't. That's when Kronberg's father offered to help set them up in business. The original plan was to sell International Harvesters, but when that company's demands for its dealerships seemed unreasonable they looked elsewhere. The couple wound up owning a NAPA auto parts store in Superior, Neb.

That turned out to be a good move. They were the only auto parts store for about 60 miles in any direction, and business was good. Kronberg did the bookkeeping, and after 15 years they opened a second store. By the time they were ready to retire, they had four.

Kronberg was active in the church and in the community throughout her life. She led church councils and was president of the American Legion Auxiliary. She liked people then like she does now. She wanted to talk.

That love of company carried over to her children's lives, too. The Kronberg home became a kind of social hub as the kids grew up. Kronberg loved to cook and bake, and she kept a variety of treats on hand. She made cookies and pizza and chocolate chip cookies, which were more of a novelty then than they are now.

Kronberg remembers her husband meeting her children's friends at the door and checking them for alcohol. If he found any, he would tell the bearer they were not welcome. If someone left, they weren't allowed to return that night.

"We had strict rules, but it must have been alright, because we always had a big crowd," Kronberg said.

They're not all good memories. In 1965, Kronberg and her husband were driving in a snowstorm when they got into an accident. Kronberg, a passenger in the car, remembers regaining consciousness stuck in the footwell of the front seat. In the ambulance on the way to the hospital she heard the driver tell someone he didn't expect her to survive.

"I thought, he didn't know what he's talking about. I'm not going to die," she said.

She didn't, of course. Kronberg spent a year recovering from the crash. She still has a rod in her left leg and a plate in the right.

Once she was fit enough to get around in a wheelchair, though, there was no stopping her.

"Everybody knew me in the hospital, because when I was able to get in my wheelchair I was all over," she said. "I like people and I love to talk to them, probably sometimes too much."

That accident is the exception in what Kronberg said has been a good life so far. She has found a lot to like about Minnesota since she relocated here. She has a daughter in St. Paul, and the family chose this location for her because it is near an airport to allow her other children to visit. She is happy at Trinity, and she finds people to talk to most of the time.

And when she doesn't? She has plenty of good times to remember.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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