Keeping in touch for 72 years


Keeping in touch for 72 years

By Amber Hovey
Contributing Writer

If you are from St. Lucas or the surrounding area, you may know Rita Kuehner from her working part-time at the White House, post office, Washland or Coast to Coast. 

If not her, then perhaps you know one of her six children, 11 grandchildren or 10 great-grandchildren.

“The most important thing in my life is spending time with my family,” said Kuehner.

She was born Jan. 26, 1930, to Will and Lula Schwade. She and her six brothers and sisters lived with their parents on a farm southwest of Spillville. 

The Czech and German woman attended a country school for kindergarten and then first grade through eighth at a Catholic school in Spillville.

She never attended high school. “There weren’t buses at that time,” said Rita. However, she earned her GED in 1985.

It was in fifth grade that Kuehner would gain a Czech pen pal from North Dakota.

“Our teacher taught us to write Czech because most of us could speak it. We wrote Czech letters to a Czech newsletter, as did students from other states,” explained Kuehner. 

That is when Mary (Volesky) Karsky wrote to Rita, asking to be pen pals. 

It wouldn’t be until approximately nine years later that the two Czech women would meet.

“It was just different. It was nice; I enjoyed it, and now we talk on the phone,” described Kuehner about their first meeting.

It has been 72 years since that first letter, and the two women continue to speak.

“We have visited over the years and have attended some of our children’s weddings. I went to see her two years ago,” said the St. Lucas resident.

While her Czech speaking has become a little rusty, she recalled that she and her mother spoke in Czech over the phone.

“After we (she and Leonard Kuehner) were married, I would call my mother. At the time there were party lines, so we would speak Czech so none of the neighbors could understand us,” chuckled Kuehner.

“None of the Germans could understand what we were saying!” she exclaimed with a grin. 

She was married at age 18 to her husband on May 4, 1948. 

Leonard was a farmer, and the couple purchased his parents farm outside of St. Lucas. 

Then in 1984, the Kuehners built a new home in St. Lucas.

Before the couple built the house Rita now lives in, the lot was the butter maker’s house across the street from the creamery. 

“We always talked about building a house in St. Lucas. My husband always said,‘You find the lot,’” recalled Kuehner.

She would find the lot, and the couple would come to own it.

“We knew we would have to pay big for it, which was a lot at that time, but my husband said, ‘don’t ask for less, because if we don’t take it someone else will,’” smiled Kuehner.

The St. Lucas couple would tear down the old house to build their new home. 

Kuehner laughed as she remembered when the basement of their new home was being built.

“A couple little kids came home one day, and they told their parents, ‘Mom! We’re going to have a swimming pool in St. Lucas! You should see it!’ They had seen the dug basement, and apparently it rained and it was all water,” she laughed. 

Leonard would live in that house for 14 years before he died shortly after their golden wedding anniversary. 

Nowadays, Rita spends much of her time volunteering at the St. Luke Catholic Church, being president of the Seniors Citizen Club, traveling on bus trips with a local group of women, playing cards as often as she can, and most importantly enjoying every minute she can with her family.

“It has been a great life, and I wouldn’t change anything,” she closed.

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