Askew celebrates 100 years on Christmas
Geri Askew's love for Christmas is continuing on to her 100th birthday this year.
“I always had Christmas and Jesus,” said Geri Askew, about enjoying her birthday on Christmas Day with this year marking 100 years of life. Her apartment decked in Christmas lights, wreaths, trees and a nativity scene—along with many birthday and Christmas cards that line her window and doorway—show her love for Christmas.
She’s always felt both her birthday and Christmas have been celebrated well, with the celebration a key aspect. She loves the elegance and giving party favors to her guests each year.
“All the kids know Grandma’s a party girl,” said Rita, one of Geri’s daughters. The Askews have four daughters and one son: Janet, Teresa, Susan, Steven and Rita.
But Geri’s favorite part of the celebrations is the cake, often decorated with poinsettias. She also enjoys singing and playing games.
“I didn’t care about my gifts. I had plenty. I always got plenty. I wasn’t afraid that I didn’t get enough presents,” Geri said.
Whether she’s celebrating her birthday or going out for an appointment, you’ll find her glowing in her styling fashion, with family members and friends noting times they’ve seen Geri complete her outfit with a hat. Even without a party this year she’ll be wearing the closest thing to her goal of a red dress, a red sparkly top.
"All the kids know Grandma’s a party girl."
— Rita Last
Geri doesn’t stop the fun at her birthday either, she loved dressing up as a clown. “I wasn’t a wild lady. I just like good fun,” as Geri said.
Many of her memories bring a smile and laugh to her face, like square dancing, where it was important to put on deodorant and be cleaned up beforehand, as Geri said. And it was a place to dress up.
Aside from the fun, there are many reasons you might know Geri: maybe you stopped by her family’s Stuntebeck Ford dealership; bought an item from her and her husband’s grocery store in Bluegrass; were invited over for a meal; were encouraged by her; had her come knock on your door with political literature; were a neighbor who read her newspaper; saw her arrangements in the Garden Club’s contests; or bought a World Book encyclopedia from her.
Geri’s milestone birthday also matches an important one in politics, as Rita noted: the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave white women the right to vote. She is glad to share the importance of politics with her family.
“I think it’s great to vote. I think it’s very nice that I can vote,” Geri said.
Geri will quickly tell you she cares about politics and is known for her local involvement with the Democratic-Farmer Labor party in the 1950-60s. In a Wadena County Historical Society interview for the “Women in Politics” project, Geri, Teresa and Rita shared about how they would deliver political literature to people in Wadena and Verndale, have DFL meetings at their house, wait for election night results at the courthouse, help people register to vote at Humphrey Manor and attend caucuses.
“I remember going to my first one (caucus) when I was about five. ‘Cause mom always brought cookies, and apple cider, and coffee,” Teresa said in the “Women in Politics” interview in 2018. “Then when you were a little kid, you’d go with her when she was knocking on doors.”
When Geri and her husband Gordy voted in 2016 they hoped Hillary Clinton would become the first woman president, as Rita said. This year, Geri’s loud cheer came with the election results of president-elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the first woman and woman of color vice president. Geri and Rita also met Biden in the 1980s at a campaign event on Rush Lake in Otter Tail County, or as Geri said, “I knew him when he was very young.”
“She’s (Geri) kind of, I would say, one of the original political ladies and feminists in town as far as always fighting for women and the underdog,” Rita said.
"I always thought I could do it and I did."
— Geri Askew
Geri ensured her voice was heard, even yelling at the boys across the street at St. Ann’s Parochial School to stop fighting. She also made time to help others by talking with them about moving forward in the right direction or inviting people over for dinner. One of her main goals was to have people be working, including her children.
“I wanted to be a school teacher but I talked my daughters into being school teachers,” Geri said of her four daughters who all taught. Rita added that Geri would tell them, “It was always a good thing and you could still be a mom if you wanted to.”
Geri might note her accomplishments simply, like forming the cross country organization that developed the trails at Black’s Grove Park or starting the library at St. Ann’s Parochial School.
“I did a lot of things I was never educated for,” Geri said. “They just needed somebody else and I could do it. I always thought I could do it and I did.”
Geri also encourages reading, such as the World Book for children.
“This is the thing that I say, if that the mothers … that don’t have to work, they can educate their kids at home. They can get a World Book and they can read that to them every single night and they can learn something. And they enjoy it, that’s what I believe,” Geri said. “These young kids they better sit down and read once and awhile.”
With style, advice and stories to come for years, Geri is looking forward to a birthday party in the spring.
“I have to take care of myself to make sure I make it to 100,” Geri said.