Minnesota News

At 105, a Minnesota Gold Star mother is honored for her lifetime of supporting veterans

Stella Huso looks on
Buffalo resident Stella Huso reflects on her 105 years during an interview on Feb. 7.
Kimm Anderson for MPR News

When Stella Huso was born in 1919, World War I had just ended and Woodrow Wilson was the president of the United States.

Women didn’t yet have the right to vote. Movies were still silent. And it would be another eight years before Charles Lindbergh would take his historic flight across the Atlantic.

Huso turned 105 years old last month. The community of Big Lake, where she was a longtime resident, threw a birthday party at the local high school, calling it a “Stellabration.” 

The Sherburne County board of commissioners declared Jan. 16 “Stella Huso Day.” The proclamation called her “a relentless advocate for our nation’s veterans and their families.”

Stella Huso looks on
“I wanted to see what the world was like,” Stella Huso said. She loves traveling and has been to 48 states.
Kimm Anderson for MPR News

Huso herself isn’t sure what all the fuss is about.

“It’s been a lot of attention, but I’m getting used to it,” she said, during an interview earlier this month in her Buffalo apartment where she lives independently.

Huso has another honorary title — one that no one wants. She’s believed to be the oldest living Gold Star mother. The designation is given to women who have lost a son or daughter in active service of the U.S. armed forces. 

Small and wiry, Huso perches on the edge of a rolling walker, her wizened hands gripping the handles as she scoots along the hallway. Her memory is sharp, recalling names and facts from more than half a century earlier. 

Huso grew up on a farm in North Dakota, on land her grandfather homesteaded, along with five siblings. She still has the yellowing document that granted him the land in Dakota Territory in 1887. It bears the signature of President Grover Cleveland.

Stella Huso holds a cerfificate
Stella Huso holds a certificate that dates back to 1887, during Grover Cleveland’s presidency, granting Huso’s grandfather land in North Dakota.
Kimm Anderson for MPR News

Her memories include some of the most significant historical events of the 20th century, including the Great Depression, which she calls “a horrible time.” 

“We survived because we lived on a farm, so we had chickens and we milked cows,” Huso said. “So we were better (off) than a lot of people who lived in town.”

But she also remembers the stifling drought of the Dust Bowl, and the grasshoppers that devastated the crops.

“We just survived through it,” she said.

Many farm kids couldn’t attend high school because there was no bus transportation. Huso lived with and worked for families in town so she could go to school. She graduated in 1937, just two years before Hitler invaded Poland, launching World War II.

An old woman's hands are crossed
At 105, Buffalo resident Stella Huso’s hands have touched more than a century of life.
Kimm Anderson for MPR News.

“I remember my dad saying, ‘Well, it won’t be long before we’ll be in it too,’ because he knew what happened with the first world war,” Huso said. “And sure enough, that’s what happened.”

By the time the U.S. entered the war, Huso was married and had her first child. Her husband, Ordin, worked for several creameries, and they moved often to communities around Minnesota. He eventually got a job as an electrical engineer at a plant in St. Michael and they settled in Big Lake.

Huso stayed busy raising five kids and volunteering at church and with the local PTA. 

After their son, Wayde, graduated from Big Lake High School in 1967, he attended St. Cloud State College. During his sophomore year, the Vietnam War was in full force, and he enlisted in the Army. 

A black and white photo of a man
Wayde Huso.
Courtesy of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund

After training, Wayde was assigned to the 19th Field Artillery, 1st Cavalry Division, and sent to Vietnam. Three months after he arrived, he was killed by an artillery round. He was just 20 years old.

Stella Huso recalls a letter Wayde wrote before he died. He wrote that he didn’t know why they were there, but he hoped it was for a good cause.

“It affected me deeply that he had gone there with that feeling,” she said. 

Other soldiers who returned home from the war echoed Wayde’s questions, Huso recalled. She believes one reason is they didn’t always receive a hero’s welcome, as the nation split over U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

“They weren’t greeted because they didn’t win the war,” she said “And it was none of their doing. It was the leaders that sent them there.”

Huso became an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary in Big Lake, helping support other veterans and their families. 

Stella Huso holds a document
Stella Huso examines the communication that she received from the army when her son, Wayde Murray Huso, was killed in Vietnam on Aug. 13, 1969.
Kimm Anderson for MPR News

Her life hasn’t always been easy, but it’s been full. She outlived all of her siblings, her husband, and four of her five children. But she now has seven grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and four great-great grandchildren, with another due soon. 

Huso loves traveling, and has visited 48 U.S. states and several countries, including Italy, Greece, Turkey and Croatia. 

“I wanted to see what the world was like,” she said.

Huso attributes her good health and longevity to taking vitamins, and offers this advice: “Keep moving.”

“Sitting in a chair all day is not very healthy,” Huso said. “I like to do something every day.”

And even when life is hard, she said, she believes in staying optimistic.

“I think that’s one main thing,” Huso said. “If you get depressed, things start going wrong. So I try to have a good outlook anyway, regardless.”

Stelle Huso looks on
“We just survived through it,” Stella Huso said about the Dust Bowl and Great Depression.
Kimm Anderson for MPR News