Community comes together to celebrate resident's 100th birthday

Gertrude "Sis" Risnes makes sure to encourage everyone to take a container of cake on her 100th birthday. She welcomed guests safely inside of Heartland Apartments as they spoke to her from the window of the dining room. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

Gertrude “Sis” Risnes, of Pine River, had been planning for April 6 for months, booking the Pine River American Legion and inviting friends to her once-in-a-lifetime occasion - her 100 th birthday.

Of course, that was before COVID-19 reared its ugly head.

“We had such a party planned at the Legion,” Risnes said Monday, on her birthday.

Risnes is well known in the Pine River community, so nobody was going to let a little pandemic ruin the day. At first, plans were pared back and Risnes's big celebration was moved into the dining room at Heartland Apartments in Pine River. But even that changed. On this special occasion, everyone was going to make plans work for Risnes.

Staff at the apartments assured Risnes that she would have her celebration, even if it was just a parade of cars driving past the windows, honking, but they kept the real plans quiet as they passed word among fellow residents and the community that they would do something more.


“She just knows that we're doing something,” Alan Klocke said before the big event Monday. “But we haven't alluded as to what.”

Risnes was brought into the dining room all by herself with birthday flowers, a basket for cards, 100 balloons and a cake. Staff took photos of Risnes and then, before long, the guests started arriving outside an open window to speak to her and wish her the best. Among them were personal friends, co-workers from her time at the local grocery store and more, all social distancing for safety and all there for her special day.

“I was surprised,” Risnes said. “They kept telling me they were going to drive by and see me. I said, they can't. They won't let us in the dining room.”

Risnes stood on the other side of some tables inside a window at Heartland Apartments. As each person passed by she told them a memory she had with them, and they took a small to-go container of cake that staff had prepared beforehand. Risnes was already planning to call and tell her family about the day.

“I've been getting a lot of calls and the kids were all wondering about it,” Risnes said. “They will be surprised to see what they did for me. They were so worried I'd be alone.”

As for her guests, many of them promised Risnes that they would be there next year when she turns 101.

Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at


Mody Gardiner stopped to wish Gertrude "Sis" Risnes a happy 100th birthday outside the dining room window at Heartland Apartments on April 6. Travis Grimler / Echo Journal

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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