Wilhelmina Klimpke acknowledged a year ago that it was time for her to slip away peacefully.
Yet Klimpke, who fought off COVID-19 recently and is eating and sitting up in her chair again, turns 109 in less than a month.
"We've kind of referred to her as the iron lady," Joy Moore, Klimpke's daughter, said Tuesday. "She seems to pull through these things."
Klimpke is quite possibly the oldest of 21 centenarians from Manitoba to recover from COVID-19, while 16 others died from the virus and five are still ill, a provincial spokesperson confirmed.
"When someone is 108, you're not going to bet that someone would survive it. But she's always been a fighter," said her son, Bruce Klimpke. "It's a kind of toughness from that generation you just don't see much of anymore."
The resident of the Charleswood Care Centre — one of Manitoba's hardest-hit care homes — tested positive in mid-December, when the Roblin Boulevard facility was in the midst of a large-scale outbreak.
Klimpke, a mom of two, grandmother to five and a great-grandmother to six, experienced difficulty breathing and needed oxygen support and wasn't eating. Her kids didn't want her moved to a hospital, knowing the matriarch of the family would have preferred to remain at the place she's called home since 2010.
But she showed gradual improvement since New Year's Day and care-centre staff have kept family members up to date about her progress.
"I don't know the exact numbers, but it wasn't good there. We didn't think she would pull through," said Moore.
The personal-care home has recorded 150 cases (106 residents, 44 staff) and 37 deaths since the start of the pandemic, provincial data shows. Currently, there are seven active cases.
"My mom's been through a lot in her life. She lived through the Spanish flu pandemic. She's been relatively healthy through her entire life," Moore said. "She always valued her friends and her family. She would do anything for anybody."
The Winnipegger isn't the oldest coronavirus survivor in Canada. In late October, an Edmonton woman, Katie Bunio, celebrated her 109th birthday just days after officially recovering, according to a CBC News story.
Klimpke was born in 1912 to Dutch immigrants and had three sisters. The family lived on a small dairy farm in Springfield, just northeast of the city.
She worked for the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War, packing parachutes in Brandon.
"It was a training base and she was one of the early women to join the Air Force. I remember her saying she was really quite annoyed because they were very restrictive of what they'd let women do in those days," said Bruce. "She said, 'They let me pack the parachutes but they won't let me jump.'"
She also attended the University of Manitoba and took interior design, and spent years sewing drapery from home.
Klimpke was in her mid-40s when she had her children. She and husband, Carl, were married nearly 60 years before his death in 2010.
The family lived in the Weston neighbourhood but her husband also ran a farm in the RM of Rosser.
"They grew all their own vegetables and canned everything. We almost never ate anything from the store. Every lunch we'd have soup made from some kind of boiled bones and it was delicious. Supper was always vegetables from the cold storage area and a small amount of meat for supper," said Bruce.
"My mom and dad were extremely tough people, they had a strong attitude toward everything. They were quite religious and belonged to the United Church in Weston all their lives, so I know when COVID came in (to Charleswood Care Centre) my mother wouldn't have feared it at all."
In his visits with his mom before the pandemic, Bruce would ask if she was still glad to be alive and would receive an emphatic "yes." But about 11 months ago, his wife, Shelley, asked the same question, and Klimpke replied, "Maybe it's time for me to go now."
"And yet, when the nurse would check her blood pressure or check to see how well her body was taking in oxygen, the nurse would say, 'I know some 19-year-olds who would like these measures," he said. "Mom was always in such good health with an incredibly positive attitude."
Assistant sports editor
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