You’d never guess by looking at her that Charlotte Diggins has lived a century.
The Stillwater resident celebrated her 100th birthday Oct. 12, but her mind is sharp and she still lives on her own.
“Only thing that’s really wrong with me right now is my eyes,” she said. “I hope to be here a while yet.”
Although a cane leans against the wall, Diggins can bounce around her apartment without touching it. She laughs often and refuses to stay cooped up at home. Each Wednesday she plays Bunco and on Thursdays plays Bingo. She can’t understand why some of the 70- and 80-year-olds in her building don’t get out more.
“If I’m in this room two days without seeing somebody, I get out there and talk to them,” Diggins said.
“She likes to stay active,” her adopted son, Charles Diggins, said. “She’s always been a people person.”
Charlotte Diggins may owe her longevity partially to her mother, who lived into her 90s and had 14 children.
“I was born on a little farm in Nebraska, not too far from Kearney,” Charlotte said. “My parents had all the children on that farm, and then we all scattered all over the world.”
The farm had horses, cows, chickens and pigs, but no electricity.
“We ate good, but (we were) not rich, not a lot of money,” she said.
But the farm did supply her family food throughout the Great Depression. Perhaps that’s why that historic event didn’t seem to make a huge impression on Diggins.
“I was pretty young,” she said. “When we lived on the farm, we had our own food there. … I guess we was always poor, so I didn’t think much about depressions.”
Diggins had two children by her first
marriage, but it ended in divorce after her husband abused her severely.
Then she met Kenneth Diggins, the love of her life. She lived in Kearney at the time.
“They had a small Air Force base right at the edge of Kearney,” she said. “I worked in a coffee shop in a hotel. … An Air Force sergeant came in and saw me, and I married him.”
Together, they moved around the country and to Puerto Rico, depending on where her husband was stationed. She always had a job at the local base exchange, the retail store on base, and quickly moved into management.
In Puerto Rico, a co-worker asked Charlotte if she knew anyone who would adopt a boy born to the woman’s 17-year-old niece.
Charlotte and her husband thought they were too busy to consider having kids. The children from Charlotte’s first marriage had stayed with her sister in Kearney. But Charlotte volunteered to take the child in and see if they could find a home for him.
His name was Charlie.
“When we seen him, he was such a little doll, so I just had to keep him,” Charlotte said. “We had no idea to have a baby. We just … didn’t want to give him up when we saw him.”
Now Charles lives in the Diggins’ old house on Hancock Street in Stillwater and calls Charlotte twice a day.
“I couldn’t live here if it weren’t for him,” she said. Because of her poor eyesight, he handles her bills and brings her groceries.
Charlotte and Kenneth Diggins moved to Stillwater after Kenneth retired from the Air Force. A native of Austin, Minn., he sought a job at the old prison in Stillwater.
“He loved working in the prison,” Charlotte said. “I don’t know why.”
But he stuck with it 20 years.
Charlotte also worked in the area. For a while she ran a photo center, first downtown Stillwater, and then in a former mall.
In the 1980s, Charlotte and Kenneth later became very active in the VFW in Stillwater. She helped run Bingo, and they were often in parades and other events.
“That was a big part of their life after they retired,” Charles Diggins said.
Kenneth died about six years ago, after 60 years of marriage.
He is buried at Fort Snelling, where Charlotte has a plot reserved for her beside him.
Her bedroom still has a “shrine” with photos of Kenneth at various ages, as well as his military trappings and the framed flag presented to her by the Air Force when he died.
“I was lucky to find a good man,” she said.
She obviously misses the man she loved, but Charlotte seems the eternal optimist and stays upbeat.
“I’ve lived 100 years and had a lot of blessings,” she said.
Asked the secret of living so long, Charlotte paused and thought several moments.
“I’m very independent, and I seem to take pretty good care of myself,” she said. “I’ve always worked. I’ve always had a job.”
But that didn’t stop her from having a fun, full life.
“Hey, I drank beer,” she said.
Sometimes she still has a glass.
Asked if she has any advice for younger generations, she had this to say:
“I would tell them that whatever they were doing to try to do the best they could and keep at it, and they’d win in the end.”
Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]