Mary (Mia) LehtoMary (Mia) Lehto, 92, passed away peacefully on Saturday, April 6, 2013, at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, Minn., after a brief illness. Mary began her life against all odds. She was born on Feb. 1, 1921, but weighed only 800 grams or the equivalent of 1.75 pounds. Her mother kept her warm in a shoebox on top of the stove and fed her with an eyedropper. The first daughter in the family, Cornelia, died when she was 6 months old, followed by five boys who all survived, so her parents, Jan and Josephina, were determined that Mary would also survive.
Mary (Mia) Lehto, 92, passed away peacefully on Saturday, April 6, 2013, at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, Minn., after a brief illness. Mary began her life against all odds. She was born on Feb. 1, 1921, but weighed only 800 grams or the equivalent of 1.75 pounds. Her mother kept her warm in a shoebox on top of the stove and fed her with an eyedropper. The first daughter in the family, Cornelia, died when she was 6 months old, followed by five boys who all survived, so her parents, Jan and Josephina, were determined that Mary would also survive. Three other girls followed Mary for a total of 10 children. Mary attended a Catholic school in Maastricht, Holland, and she was in nurses training when World War II broke out. Holland was one of the first countries invaded by Nazi Germany in May 1940. Several of Mary's brothers worked for the resistance against the Nazis, and during the last year of the war, when the Nazis tried to starve the Dutch people, her father and her 16-year-old sister were arrested and thrown in a concentration camp. Mary narrowly escaped that fate. Her father and sister survived their experience in the concentration camp, but their lives were forever changed. During the last year of the war, Mary met a dashing young American soldier, Charles Lehto, who stopped by to ask Mary to translate a Dutch sign. They fell in love and six months later, in May 1945, they were married in a large Catholic church in Maastricht. The war ended and at age 25, Mary reunited with Charles in New York, after traveling alone from Holland on a freighter.
Mary's new life in America was very different from her life in Holland where she had lived in a brownstone house surrounded by tulips, skating canals, and bicycles. Her mother had died suddenly during the war. A large portion of Holland was in ruins from the devastation of the war. In America, Mary and Charles first lived in a small apartment in Duluth, Minn., where their first two children, Deanna and Robert, were born. From 1946 to 1952, Mary was active in the War Bride's Club where she developed close friendships with Ria from Belgium and Renie from England. In 1953, Mary and Charles moved to a small farm in Esko, 15 miles south of Duluth. There Mary lived with her in-laws, Frank and Hannah, and their son George in a house that Charles expanded for their growing family. In 1953, Rick was born, and in 1958 Frank was born. The last son, Steve, arrived in 1964. During these family years, Mary and Charles ran a small dairy farm with George. In addition to raising a family of five children, Mary grew a large garden, specialized in making cinnamon rolls and chicken cacciatore, sewed clothes for the children, and learned to drive a car, but not a tractor. Charles eventually accepted a job with Bell Telephone Company in West Duluth, and Mary and Charles continued to raise beef cattle.
In 1986, Mary and Charles sold the farm to their son Frank, and they retired, wintering in southern Texas close to Charles' sister Irene. A few years later, they bought a townhouse in Shoreview, Minn., close to their daughter Deanna, where they lived for several years, traveling to Holland and other regions of the United States to visit friends and relatives. In 1998, Mary and Charles moved to an independent living apartment at St. Therese in Hopkins, Minn., near their son Steve and his wife. In 2009, they moved to Grace Homes, a residential nursing home. Charles died in August 2009, and Mary continued to live there until her death.
Mary was preceded in death by her husband, Charles; son Robert; brothers Frederik (Fritz), Hendrik (Harry), Willem (Willie), Lambert (Lam), and Karel; sisters Cornelia, Josephina (Fif), Johanna (Hannie); and her parents, Jan and Josephina.
She will be deeply missed by her sister Theresia (Treeske); Mary's children, Steve (Carol Jean), Frank (Becky), Rick (Kathy), and Deanna (Jim); her grandchildren, Sara (Chris), Amy, Megan and Collin; great-grandchildren, Emma and Mia; and many friends, relatives, and caregivers at Grace Homes in Hopkins.
Visitation will be held Thursday, April 11, from 10 a.m. until the 11 a.m. memorial services at the Cremation Society of Minnesota, 7100 France Ave. S., Edina, Minn., 952-924-1100. Burial will follow at Fort Snelling Cemetery.
Memorials are preferred to Catholic Charities (www.catholiccharitiesusa.org).
April 18, 2013 ~ Pine Journal, Cloquet, Minn.