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Rochester woman on turning 95: 'I am an antique'

"'What’s the secret?' That’s what they always ask. There is no secret," said Evelyn Minnaert. "It’s just how long He lets you live."

Evelyn Minnaert
Evelyn Minnaert turns 95 on Jan. 25. She has had a booth selling antiques at the Old Rooster Antique Mall for three decades.
Matthew Stolle / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — Evelyn Minnaert can’t say exactly when people started asking the question. But when you are on the cusp of your 95th birthday, it becomes almost inevitable that people will ask: "Hey, Evelyn, when do you plan to head into retirement?"

Like never.

The questions are always asked in a well-meaning way, a bit of a conversation-starter, but Evelyn doesn’t see retirement as some promised land like others. She wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.

“What do you want me to do? Go home and sit in my chair and watch TV till I die?” Evelyn said.

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The fact is Evelyn’s work as an antique dealer at the Old Rooster antique store on North Broadway — a position she has had for three decades — surrounds her with the things that are important to her and that she cares about: Work, friends, and a reason to get up in the morning.

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“I think it’s a wonderful business,” Evelyn said about antiquing. “I call it reminisce time.”

Evelyn embodies a number of secrets for a long life, adding with a dash of humor that she identifies with the products she sells.

"I am an antique."

She has never ceased being interested in people and things, selling and buying antiques since she and her husband opened a shop in Waverly, Iowa, in 1947. Her memory is still sharp. She is a woman of faith but not religious. She says a prayer every morning, reading from a worn-out Bible.

She enjoys a glass of wine or a martini at night (she prefers that not be told). She is a people person with a refreshing tell-it-like-is quality.

“We got nice customers — a few not so nice — but most of them are wonderful,” she said.

But most of all, Evelyn expresses an appreciation and indebtedness to those around her who help make it possible to live the life she does.

Paul Larsen, a fellow antique dealer, and Ron Ruport, store owner, often step forward to help Evelyn with everything from filing her taxes to getting her to her doctors appointments. The woman who lives above Evelyn in her Rochester duplex also helps with transportation.

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“They are like family to me,” she said. “There’s so much paperwork in life. If I have a problem, that’s who I go to.”

The longevity gene runs in the family. She was the baby of the family, raised in the midst of the Great Depression, and many of her brothers and sisters, all of whom are deceased, lived into their mid-90s with one reaching to 100.

“So, I’m 95, and I’m waiting for the cord to be pulled,” she said matter-of-factly.

Many antique dealers follow a similar trajectory. First they become collectors, then dealers once their collections become so big that it requires some offloading.

Evelyn Minnaert
Evelyn Minnaert at the Old Rooster Antique Mall.
Matthew Stolle / Post Bulletin

Being an antique dealer can be a great way to see and travel the country. During winters, Evelyn and her late husband, Clarence, would close up their shop and hit the road to do antique shows in Texas, Arizona and California.

The definition of antique can vary. Once viewed as items at least 50 years old, today the minimum benchmark is around 25 years. But all antiques share one quality: They evoke a memory.

Evelyn's husband died in 1984, and she never remarried. She wasn’t opposed to the notion of getting married again, but she never met anyone as good as Clarence.

“Everybody asks, ‘How come you haven’t got married again?’ Because that was 40 years ago. If I could find somebody like that or better, then I would look twice, but (that never happened),” she said.

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After the death of her husband, Evelyn continued to attend antique shows nationwide with the help of an older sister. But filling up a trailer or van with boxes of antiques before hitting the road can be exhausting. It once prompted her worn-out sister to ask imploringly, “When are you getting a regular job?”

The answer to that question is obvious to anyone who knows her.

Four to five days a week, Evelyn works at the Old Rooster, renting out a 15-yard-long section of space filled with everything from religious statuary, rosary beads and old Bibles to silver utensils, earthenware and pottery to portraits and heart-shaped boxes. Evelyn works with 14 other dealers at half-block-long store that stretches back to an alley.

She still gets excited when she sees something she likes.

“I went nuts over them,” Evelyn said, when she saw the 1970s-era, heart-shaped boxes.

“They used to call it junk, and we don’t say that anymore. We call it stuff,” Evelyn said.

There will be a birthday celebration at Old Rooster on Wednesday for her birthday. And leading up to it, probably more queries about how she does it.

“What’s the secret? That’s what they always ask. There is no secret,” Evelyn said. “It’s just how long He lets you live.”

Related Topics: ROCHESTERPEOPLEANTIQUES & COLLECTIBLESBUSINESSPB INSTAGRAM
Matthew Stolle has been a Post Bulletin reporter since 2000 and covered many of the beats that make up a newsroom. In his first several years, he covered K-12 education and higher education in Rochester before shifting to politics. He has also been a features writer. Today, Matt jumps from beat to beat, depending on what his editor and the Rochester area are producing in terms of news. Readers can reach Matthew at 507-281-7415 or mstolle@postbulletin.com.
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