JUNEAU — In today’s world some people may be able to say they’ve been a life-long member of their church, but few can say they’ve been a member for over a century. In a cozy little house on the outskirts of Juneau, Virginia Hilgendorf Rediske, is enjoying her life of 101 years and all the while a faithful member of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church.
In 1918 Woodrow Wilson was president of our country, The Boston Red Sox defeated the Chicago Cubs in the World Series and on Nov. 11, 1918, World War I was officially declared over. It was a big year in our country’s history, and it was also the year Virginia Hilgendorf was born. Virginia came into this world on April 9, 1918, to the parents of John and Gertrude Hilgendorf. She was baptized at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Juneau shortly after her birth and has remained a member of the congregation since that day. Throughout her life she’s helped to encourage a long line of her family to grow in their faith as well.
“I’ve belonged to this church since the day I was born,” Virginia said on a snowy winter day sharing a few stories of her long life. “All my life my faith has been important to me.”
Virginia’s connection to St. John’s is even more remarkable as she shared more information about her family’s history.
The church’s most recent directory has a section on the history of the church that includes a picture of an old document dated Jan. 15, 1877. This document declared the official organization of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. Two of the founders on that historic document who signed their names are Carl Schrap and Wilhelm Hilgendorf, both of whom are Virginia’s great-grandparents. The Rev. David Brandt did additional research to confirm Virginia’s family history paging through the church’s historic record books that list births and baptisms that include family members. All of the older books were written primarily in German.
“Both of my great-grandparents came over from Germany and shortly after helped start the church,” she said.
While being 101-years-old, there are few things Virginia has forgotten over the years, but she can clearly remember the days when the old St. John’s church was torn down and when the new and current church building was built in 1969.
“Most of the people were happy about the new church,” she said.
She also remembers many of the changes to the church and school over the years including when the new school was built in 1927. The school was later remodeled and expanded in 1956 and again in 1966.
“I attended the St. John’s Lutheran School growing up and then graduated from Juneau High School in 1935,” she recalled while looking at a beautiful black and white photo of her graduation picture that included her classmates. “Unfortunately, many of these boys here in the pictures went off to the war and never came home. Quite a few were killed in the war.”
During her youth, Virginia enjoyed going to dances and at one dance she met Franklin Rediske, a young man from Mayville. The two quickly fell in love. While Franklin was serving in the Army he was stationed in Baltimore and with a little spontaneity, Virginia took the train out to visit him.
“It was 1946 and I decided to go out and visit him. I didn’t intend on getting married,” she said smiling, but that’s exactly what happened.
Virginia returned home to Juneau, surprising her family with news that she married Franklin. Franklin became a member of St. John’s church and over the years the two of them had four children, Carla Rahn, Gail Hartman, Sharon Dent and John Rediske. Franklin took over the Hilgendorf Hardware store that was located in downtown Juneau that was started by Virginia’s grandparents. They lived above their store for a few years, but in 1949 they built the home she currently lives in. While Franklin managed the store, Virginia worked for many years as a legal secretary for various attorneys and eventually for the district attorney.
“It was an interesting job,” she said.
While working and raising a family kept her busy over the years, one of Virginia’s favorite past times was getting together once a week with her friends to play bridge, an activity she continues to do to this day. What’s even more remarkable about her consistent bridge playing days is that two of those close friends were also blessed with longevity.
Marge Mountin turned 101-years-old in October and is also a member of St. John’s Lutheran Church. She currently resides at Clearview in Juneau.
Another of Virginia’s card playing friends was Clara Schaefer, who passed away a few years ago at the age of 101.
“When you think about what her secret of longevity is, I have to believe it is bridge,” her daughter Gail said. “ Since the early 1950s her aunt taught her how to play and every week a group of eight women would get together to play. It’s a pretty competitive game and a game where you need to think a lot. I think it’s kept her mind sharp.”
Still living at home at the age of 101 is also a challenge but Virginia is determined to stay there.
“A doctor once told her that living to 100 is not for the faint of heart,” Gail said. “I believe that’s true. I see her courage and determination every day as she pushes herself to be able to do basic things that will allow her to stay in her home. Many things she works hard at are those that most of us take for granted every day.”
While playing bridge helps keep her mind sharp, she is also an avid reader and enjoys keeping up with news.
“CNN is one of her favorite shows because it has the closed captioning and she has a difficult time hearing but also because she can follow the news,” Gail said. “She’s well aware of what’s happening around her. She also reads the church newsletter and newspaper.”
“I can’t figure out why I’ve lived this long,” Virginia said when asked what she may have done differently than others over the years. “I think I inherited some good genes.”
One of Virginia’s grandparents lived into his mid-90s while the others also lived into their late 80s and early 90s. None of them broke the 100-year-old mark as Virginia has. The family celebrated her 100th birthday with a celebration at the Juneau Community Center just about two years ago, where a large gathering was held. She’s watched many pastors serve St. John’s over her lifetime and was delighted that the Rev. Paul Schupmann attended her birthday party.
“I am very blessed to have had a really good life,” she said. “I had a really good husband for 43 years. He was wonderful.”
Although Virginia has a difficult time hearing and needs some assistance moving around, she continues to make the trip from home with her daughter to worship in church during the special midweek service held for the elderly in the congregation, which also gives her the opportunity to take communion. She enjoys hearing the music and being in the sanctuary.
“She’s very mindful of our family history connected to the church,” Gail said. “I think she feels honored to be a part of that church history.”
Virginia has nine grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.