Rapid City’s oldest resident and the second-oldest South Dakota resident, 111-year-old Min Lighter Quarnberg, died April 20 after what a daughter called “a long, good life” that included volunteer work, surviving the 1972 Rapid City Flood, and hosting celebrities and dignitaries as a member of the Singing Tribe of Wahoo tourism promotion group.
“It’s the end of a very long chapter of Rapid City pioneers,” said her elder daughter, Jane Nieland, 77, of Colorado.
Quarnberg was born Dec. 10, 1900, in Spencer, Iowa, where she met her husband, Ed Lighter, on a double date with a twist.
“My father was with another woman, and my mother was with another man,” said younger daughter Lynn Payne, 75, of California.
The two became friends, dated and were married, moving in 1925 to Rapid City, where Ed Lighter bought the Rapid City Journal with its publisher R.W. Hitchcock. Lighter owned a stake in the Journal until his death in 1967, Payne said.
Min Lighter was at Ed Lighter’s side during his years of active civic engagement, helping to promote the Black Hills region and entertain dignitaries, including presidents Roosevelt, Wilson and Coolidge.
With her degree from an Iowa business college, she also served as his confidante in the trials of the newspaper business, her daughters said.
She made the house they built at 1815 Ninth St. into a home, greeting her daughters with a plate of warm cookies each day when they returned from school. There was an emphasis on reading, as Ed Lighter refused to install a television, seeing the device as the competition.
Quarnberg’s main philanthropic work involved the Gray Ladies, women who provided companionship to hospitalized patients and nursing home residents. She was also active with the First Congregational Church.
“She just enjoyed taking care of people and helping them,” Payne said.
After their father’s death, their mother married a friend, Paul Quarnberg.
They were living in a new house in Dark Canyon on June 9, 1972, when the Rapid City flood began.
“My husband came in and said, ‘Better go, grab anything you can and get in the car and don’t stop and think about anything,’” Min Quarnberg said in an oral history given to the Rapid City Public Library when she was 105.
“I jumped in the car,” she said. “I had a little box of things and my nightie, and the couple next door went with us. We went as fast as we could. We just barely got across the bridge when it went out.”
They spent the night looking out a sixth-floor window of the Hotel Alex Johnson.
“All we did was stand in the window and look out at the fire and flames,” she said.
Two days later they returned to the house to find it “devastated.”
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But, Payne said, she never heard her mother complain or feel sorry for herself, amid the loss of life.
On the library video, Nieland tells her mother, “You called and said, ‘We’re alive, we’re alive.’”
Min Quarnberg lived at Westhills Village from 1986 until her death. She enjoyed bingo, board games and listening to news and sports on the radio, especially Lady Hardrockers basketball games.
Westhills Village executive director Daryl Reinicke remembered her as “an extremely beautiful lady,” who dressed stylishly, had a keen understanding of social etiquette and loved to assist with writing invitations and planning parties.
Despite Quarnberg’s advanced age, Reinicke said, she had a youthful quality.
“She was a very young older lady,” he said. “She was one of those people that, if she would have told you she was 95, you would have thought she was 75. Min always looked 20 years younger.”
Quarnberg’s own mother lived to age 99, daughter Lynn Payne said.
Her daughters said Quarnberg attributed her longevity to her Scandinavian heritage. Payne said her mother had become blind in her later years, but was in excellent health.
“The only medication she took was extra-strength Tylenol,” she said.
The family did not publish an obituary and said they plan a small, private ceremony this summer in Rapid City. Quarnberg’s daughters thanked their mother’s caregivers for providing daily love and companionship to their mother, whom they visited twice a year for decades.
Quarnberg was the second-oldest person in South Dakota at the time of her death, according to the records of the state Century Club, maintained by the South Dakota Health Care Association.
The oldest person is Beryl Kapaun, 113, who lives at the Golden Living Center in Salem. Kapaun was born June 4, 1899.
With Quarnberg’s death, it is unclear who the second-oldest person in the state is now. The Journal determined that many of the oldest people on the Century Club’s list have died.
Daughter Jane Nieland said her mother was competitive and would have been disappointed to know she never earned the title of the oldest person in the state. But, daughter Lynn Payne said she enjoyed her 111 years.
“She had a very happy life,” Payne said.
Contact Barbara Soderlin at 394-8417 or email@example.com.