Mrs. Jurnas' life touches three centuries

  • 2000-01-13
  • By Joseph Enge

As the Baltics start a new millennium with hope for prosperity and
excitement, Joseph Enge sat with one Balt who has lived, worked and
hoped in three - centuries that is.

Anna Jurnas, Estonia's oldest citizen, turned 108 on Jan. 6. With
three centuries behind her, Anna celebrated this milestone with her
daughter, well-wishers - including Tartu Mayor Andrus Ansip - and a
little champagne at her home.

The mayor presented her with a 500-kroon gift from the city, then
Anna delighted guests by singing three songs for an evening news
broadcast shown nationwide. Anna quickly pointed out that she was not
forced to sing, and it was not her first television appearance.

Since her husband died in 1959, Anna has lived with her 71-year-old
daughter, Selma Kera. Jurnas could do all of her own housework,
enjoyed gardening, and even picked potatoes until she turned 100.

"I can name any plant in a garden, except the weeds, of course,"Jurnas said.

Today, she has dizzy spells which keep her in the house, but she
continues to exercise her arms and legs from her bed and to clean the

Kera remembers her mother's hands always busy.

"My mother has always liked to work a lot. She told me to work when I
was young and not to go to parties. My father advised her to let me
go to the parties, for there would be a time when I would no longer
go to them,"she said.

Official visitors, media and friends showed up on Anna's birthday.
The woman-of-honor chided her daughter for not having food prepared
early enough for about 25 guests. The family celebrated together
again on Jan. 8.

Anna was born in 1892 near Viljandi in southern Estonia. In 1910,
her father moved the family, Anna and two older and one younger
brother, to Simbirsk, Russia, to obtain the free land offered those
willing to relocate under Tzar Nicholas II. Simbirsk is famous as the
birthplace of Lenin and Alexander Kerensky.

As her mother died soon after the move, Anna took over raising her
younger brother. Her two older brothers were killed in World War I.
fighting in the czar's army. Anna's father later remarried, giving
her two stepbrothers and a stepsister.

Anna married Jaan in 1920. They had four children, two boys and two
girls. One son died when he was six.

Joseph Stalin's policies brought the Jurnases hard times. They were
treated as kulaks, successful farmers that were resented, Anna said.
With an invitation from her grandfather who had a farm near Tartu,
the family moved back to Estonia in 1934. Anna remembers Estonia's
president, Konstantin Pats, as being a good president.

World War II brought additional tragedy for Anna with the loss of her
younger brother and two stepbrothers. She remembers the 20th century
as many years of war. One of her most vivid and happiest memories is
her son Ilmar's return home alive after World War II.

Anna did not share an opinion on Estonia's current economic and
political situation, blaming her immobility since 1992. She does read
the daily papers, she said.

Anna liked seeing her picture in local newspapers, she said, and
enjoyed the television coverage of her birthday the evening of her
big day. Asked about her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she
could not remember them all, because "more and more are being
born."All together, her children, grandchildren, and
great-grandchildren total 37.