Sister Vera Klinkhammer was always the life of the party.

The Franciscan sister who died Saturday, was best known for her bubbly, vivacious personality — she enjoyed a good celebration, time spent in prayer and the occasional beer.

One Halloween, in the 1960s, she dressed as a cowgirl, donning a red cowboy hat with yellow fringe. The next morning, she wasn't ready to be done with the holiday and she decided to try on the hat one more time to see how it looked, over her habit, which the sisters were still wearing at the time.

She forgot she had it on and headed to chapel that morning, hat and all. When she arrived, one of the older sisters was sitting in the back of the chapel, she took one look at Klinkhammer and jumped out of her pew, exclaiming "Oh, my God, what's next?"

For Klinkhammer, the answer was a lot — though her life took her through 104 years, she never slowed down.

"I have to earn my keep," her sisters remember her saying often. And she did — visiting with patients, she would arrive early and stay late, praying with them before their surgeries, she'd track them down post-op to check in and comfort them. Those who knew her said she embodied the Franciscan values of hospitality, respect and she always put the needs of the patients first.

The "vivacious" sister came to Rochester when she was 19, said Sister Lauren Weinandt. She grew up on a rural farm in Adrian with her 10 siblings during the Great Depression, but her family lost its farm and moved to town.

In 1942, she became a part of the Sister of St. Francis, joining two of her biological sisters, Sister Gildas and Sister Loretta.

Klinkhammer's nursing career began at Saint Marys Hospital in 1944, where she remained until 1956; in 1957 she moved to Portsmouth, Ohio and worked at Mercy Hospital as a obstetrics nurse until 1964. She returned to Minnesota, serving as a nurse at Sacred Heart Care Center in Austin until 1966 and at Assisi Heights until 1968.

After that, she returned to Saint Marys Hospital to serve as chapel sacristan from 1968-1980 and a patient visitor until 2011.

Always on the go, if you stopped at a nurse's station and asked for her, the answer was often, 'she was just here, I just heard her.'

The "click-click-click" of her high heels could be heard making rounds through the hospital.

After hitting 100, she retired to Assisi Heights, making frequent visits to the hospital still, sporting those heels. But after she had a fall in them one day, her sisters forced her into flats.

"We took away all of her heels," Weinandt said. "And they all said no more heels."

But that didn't stop her from trekking through the hospital's halls visiting patients. At 101, out of curiosity, they put a pedometer on her to see how many miles she put in each day. At the end of the day, the pedometer gave them their answer — 12 miles. So, they named the employee walking path on the Saint Marys campus in her honor.

Light on her feet, while Klinkhammer was quick to put on her dancing shoes, she had another pair for one of her other passions: recycling.

She was Saint Marys and Mayo Clinic's first recycler and pushed others to follow suit, Weinandt said. One day, a priest was looking for her and found her downstairs in the utility room. As he approached he heard "crunch, crunch, crunch."

It was Klinkhammer dancing around in an old, heavy pair of shoes, tramping on aluminum cans. She had an old pair of shoes that she kept down there, "these are my can-crushing shoes," she'd tell her sisters.

Entertaining was also something she loved. Every now and then, her and the sisters would head out to dinner, her favorite spot was Michael's. She'd call up the restaurant and say "this is Sister Vera," and they'd open up her special table in the library.

Her favorite thing to order: a T-bone steak, said Weinandt, adding that despite her petite frame, she could finish a steak like nobody's business. And on special occasions, she enjoyed a nice cold beer.

"She was always ready for a party," said Sister Bernadette Novack.

But the real thing she'll be remembered for said her sisters — a great big hug and a warm smile.

"If you were having a bad day, and ran across Sister Vera, her positive attitude turned your whole day around," said John Murphy, with Mayo Clinic Public Affairs. "Once you met her, you knew the world was OK."

Lives They Lived is a weekly feature that takes a deeper look at the lives of interesting and notable people in our area. It runs every Thursday.

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