Sophia Hillesheim Kral celebrates 100 years

Sophia Hillesheim Kral marks 100 years

Sophia Hillesheim Kral’s entire family gathered last weekend and celebrated her 100th birthday.  They gathered in Springfield because this is the community where she grew up,” explained Sophia’s daughter, Renee Wendinger, “and I always think of that saying, ‘it takes a village’ when it comes to Mom’s childhood.”

Sophia came to Springfield as a small child. She was an orphan train baby, only two years old when she traveled on an orphan train from New York to Minneapolis.  Her first foster mother died in the Influenza Epidemic of 1918.  She was moved to a German orphanage in St. Paul where a priest from Springfield, stopping for a visit after a trip to Germany, found her and said he knew a woman who could use some help in her home.

That’s how Sophia came to grow up in Springfield in the home of an elderly widow woman, Mrs. Greim, who spoke only German.  Sophia had to learn English in school.  “I don’t think Grandma Greim knew how to take care of a child,” related Renee. “It was a rough beginning in life for Mom, so we say that is why she got to live to a ripe old age.”

As she grew up, in addition to helping her foster mother, Sophia went to work in the homes of other Springfield families. She started at age eight when she would go to a home before and after school to wash dishes. “Oh, those party dishes would be stacked high,” remembered Sophia.  By the time she was a teenager, Sophia was working for the Ochs family, who Renee says were among the many Springfield people who were so good to Sophia.

When Sophia was 18, she went to a family in St. Paul to work as a mother’s helper. She’d been dating Charles Hillesheim at home in Springfield.  He sent her a telegram: “Must come home, your mother is sick.” Sophia came home, Charles proposed marriage, and she never went back to St. Paul.  “Her mother wasn’t sick either, explained Renee. “He just wanted her to come home.” 

Sophia and Charles had five children: Patricia Brandel, who lives in Atwater, Charlene Peichel of Dell Rapids, S.D., Johnora DeGregoris of Gilbert, Ariz., and Stephen and Renee, who live in Sleepy Eye. Charles passed away in 1966, and in 1985 Sophia was married to Ray Kral Sr.

Ray passed away in 2007 and Sophia was able to live alone in their home until just this past December when she became ill with influenza. She currently resides in Divine Providence Community Home.

The Hillesheim extended family also includes 13 grandchildren, 34 great-grandchildren, and 14 great-greats. 

When asked why she has lived so long. “I don’t know,” Sophia said, and then paused. “I have five children that kept me busy and have just always tried to help other people.” 

(Story and photo courtesy Deb Moldaschel and the Sleepy-Eye Herald-Dispatch)