Looking back to 1913, the United States of America had been an independent nation for just 137 years. Woodrow Wilson was in his first year as President. The first World War was still a year away, and a mother gave birth to a baby girl who would go on to see more than a century of history unfold before her eyes. Trudy Klapperich is 107 years old and still going strong.
Klapperich was born July 30, 1913. In 107 years, she’s lived through two world wars and the Great Depression, and through it all, she has woven her life with her many skeins of yarn. Her mother taught her to crochet when she was 10 years old and she continues to use her talent making hats for the needy.
This year, Klapperich made Christmas colorful and warm for 26 children at St. Josaphat Parish School. Maureen McCourt, middle school English language arts teacher at SJPS, and Patty O’Neil, the school’s fourth-grade teacher, coordinated the efforts with Bill Polachek, pastoral care coordinator at the Milwaukee Catholic Home, where Klapperich has lived the past 19 years.
“Many of our students come from impoverished families and greatly need the hats,” said McCourt.
Trudy has crocheted so many hats she’s lost track of how many thousands she has made over the years, but she said it currently takes her about a day and a half to make one. Her work is impeccable, but she doesn’t take too much credit for her efforts.
“Oh my gosh, I have all day here, don’t forget,” she said. “It keeps me busy and it is very therapeutic. Of course, you have to practice over and over, but it’s a great manipulation of your hands and keeps them flexible.”
While she still makes the occasional mistake, the reminders to go to a different row seem to have a divine origin since her eyesight is not as good as it once was.
“If I come to the end of a row, he stops me somehow,” she said. “God takes care of me every day.”
While crocheting similar patterns repeatedly offers Klapperich a little time to pray and think about those who will be receiving her hats, she insists she still needs to concentrate so she doesn’t make too many mistakes.
“I do make some mistakes and they can easily happen, so I do have to pay attention,” she said. “But it’s important for me to think about others and all that God has given me, because if I sit and think about myself all the time, that’s bad business.”
The only thing that holds Klapperich back from her love of crocheting is a lack of yarn. For a while, she said she thought she was finished because she had nothing to use for crocheting.
“I figured I was giving up but then Bill brought me some yarn and I was back in business,” she said.
Klapperich shared her legacy of crocheting with others at the Milwaukee Catholic Home. Her daughter has also followed in her footsteps, creating a bit more detailed designs than Klapperich does. Despite her love of her daughter’s work, she has no interest in crocheting the same way as her daughter. She prefers a quicker approach.
“I want something over with, so I can make another one,” she said.
Her crocheting ability astounds Polacheck.
“And indeed, just as I was amazed when I saw the 26 hats in her middle drawer, which I took to St. Josaphat’s, I was amazed when I checked recently, and it is beginning to fill up again,” he said.
A lifelong Catholic, Klapperich used to belong to St. Francis of Assisi before moving to the Catholic Home, a place she enjoys more each day.
“They have exotic plants here, and all kinds of activities and they treat me very well,” she said. “Of course, I can spend my days crocheting, which makes me happy.”
Klapperich shows no sign of giving up her crocheting hobby. Most days, she is found with yarn on her lap and a crochet hook in her hand.
“I hope I can continue this forever,” she said. “It is all up to God. He gives me everything and I’m grateful he put me here at the Catholic Home. It gets better every day.”