Amy King is one of those women who really loves people, and as you get to know her, it's obvious that the feelings are reciprocated by those in her close-knit St. Paul neighborhood. There's the tenant who drives her to and from her Methodist church every Sunday; the hair stylist who comes to do her hair when King feels the need; the young girls down the block who interviewed her for a history project and formed a fast friendship. King takes an interest in her neighbors: when one more than 40 years her junior had surgery on her leg this fall, King checked in periodically to see how her friend was getting around (and if she needed home-baked cookies).

This morning King has found time to entertain a neighbor, a photographer and a writer. Along with coffee, she's sharing her homemade Swedish coffeecake and stories about the life she's lived for nearly 96 years. Although she's home more often than not, she's not a person you want to just drop in on-King keeps a busy social calendar that includes friends, bridge, church and neighborhood events. Along with a ready laugh and genuine interest in others, King possesses an excellent memory that is the envy of many half her age. Her memories extend back to her childhood as one of nine children in a South Dakota farm family.

Depression days
"That was Depression time," she added. "Out in South Dakota, it was windy and dry. The dust was always blowing into the house. I remember my mother stuffing rags around the windowsills and under doors to keep the dust out.

The economic realities of the times led her away from the family farm and South Dakota. Unable to afford to finish the nurse's training she began after graduating from high school, King decided to join a friend who had moved to the Twin Cities. "I was going to finish my training," she explained, "but I didn't have any money, so I worked instead. I never did go back to finish school."

Most important
After working for a time as a health-care aide, King went to work in an ice cream factory. It was there that she made a friend who introduced her to Bill King, her future husband.

She doesn't talk about him much, but when she looks back over her life-she has lived through two world wars, the Depression, the civil rights and women's movements, and the dawn of television, computers, cell phones and ipods-King doesn't need to think about what's been most important to her. "My husband was the most amazing thing in my life," she said quickly and with obvious feeling.

An independent woman
Together, she and Bill raised three daughters. While King's daughters have gone on to marry and have children of their own-she boasts 10 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren-Bill didn't survive to enjoy retirement. He died of a sudden heart attack in 1960. Like many middle-aged widows of that time, unexpected circumstances dictated that she had to become independent. "After my husband died," King said, "I had to learn how to be independent and how to take care of myself." When Bill died, their youngest daughter was still living at home and attending high school. To make ends meet, King got a job at Montgomery Ward and worked there for 10 years. She also converted the second story of her home into an apartment and began taking in renters. It was a very different life than the one she had shared with Bill. Like most women in those days, King stayed home with her daughters while her husband worked. But she also dedicated herself to children who needed her. She watched neighborhood children while their mothers worked, and took care of babies awaiting adoption and foster care through Children's Home Society and Family Services. "My youngest daughter wanted us to have another baby, so that was the answer," King smiled, explaining her reasoning for taking in the needy babies. "Usually we just had one baby at a time, and we had some real cute ones."

King is no longer a working woman, but she is still an independent woman. Her 96th birthday is fast approaching, and she continues to live in the house she and Bill bought together in 1934. Even though some have tried to persuade her to move to an assisted-living facility, she's sitting tight. "I've been here 70 years and I don't want to move," she said. "I look around my house and I think, 'I can't leave this.' I don't want to sell my house. It's home to me." It is not just the physical place, though that is important, it is the community and the independence that is so important to King.

Maintaining her independence hasn't always been easy. She had unexpected surgery the day after her 95th birthday; her recovery and physical therapy time was spent in a care facility. Her vitality was so obvious that a hospital nurse asked if she was still working. "Still working? At 96?" King responded. Contrast that with the other patients. "There were all these people there," she explained, "that were slumped over with their heads down." She folded her torso over her lap to illustrate. "I wanted to tell them all, 'Stand up straight!' I had a doctor tell me once that if you always stand up straight, you'll never have back trouble. It's worked for me."

On the go
King must have followed more health advice than just stand up straight. She made a full recovery from surgery and returned home. But she doesn't spend all her time in the house. Her calendar has notes for nearly every day of the month. She hosts bridge games regularly, and she goes to games at friends' homes. "Bridge is not hard," she said dismissing those who don't know how to play the game. "I suppose it's good for the mind. If that's so, mine should be pretty good. I've been playing bridge for 70 years."

When she isn't out of the house attending church, visiting friends, or playing cards, King is at home with her companion cat, Honey. She loves to bake cookies for her church's festivals and she serves her regular visitors. Previous renters keep in touch, neighbors check in, grandchildren come through and so do those children she babysat way back when. They're all adults now. King considers herself lucky to have so many friends, yet she has actively cultivated them throughout her life. "I like taking care of people. That's why I took care of so many children," she said. "I like being kind. It's not hard to do."

Her own children live far away-she has no close relatives in town, and her daughters live in Ireland, Michigan and Missouri-and though she was crowned "Queen of the Day" at a recent family reunion in South Dakota, she doesn't travel as much as she used to. Part of it is the heightened airport security measures, which make travel more difficult for many older people. And when she does visit out-of-town family, well, she's so busy baking and playing with the kids that she gets pretty worn out.

A local block nurse program and a home-health aide, along with informal community support, help keep King in her home. The woman who delivers her groceries has become a friend who also helps put away the groceries. Another frequent delivery is books from the local public library. She devours them at a steady pace. "I've always liked to read," she smiled. "I kind of like mysteries because life is a mystery."

The profile appears in every issue of the Minnesota Women's Press. It reflects our founding principle and guiding philosophy that every woman has a story. Readers are welcome to submit suggestions for profile subjects.