Mary Jane Gruber has an independent spirit of someone much younger than her 91 years.

She lives in her own apartment in Spring Valley and while she is young-at-heart, she wouldn’t be able to remain on her own without a bit of help here and there. She is the perfect example of the mission behind Spring Valley Seniors Staying Put (SVSSP).

SVSSP has made it its mission to help senior citizens stay independently in their homes by providing help with simple tasks around the house, rides to medical appointments, social interaction with younger people and similar activities. The nonprofit group’s kick-off event was held Sept. 20 at Spring Valley Dam Days.

Gruber’s daughter Anita Gokey is thrilled SVSSP is going to be up and running.

“This is exciting for me,” Gokey said. “On a daily basis it’s nice there’s someone to count on when we can’t be there for everything.”

SVSSP’s Kathy Nyeggen has been bringing nutritious meals to Gruber for about nine months, before SVSSP existed, said Gokey.

The family got Nyeggen’s name from Pierce County Department of Public Health when they were searching for someone to bring Gruber meals she could heat up herself, Gokey said.

Gruber is all smiles as she talks of her love of Nyeggen’s soup, and how it feels to remain in her own home.

“I feel so blessed that I got this,” Gruber said of her small apartment. “I’ve lived here for two years. I wouldn’t give up this place. I want to stay here until I die.”

Gokey said her mother has always been independent, and that hasn’t changed with age. They researched nursing home options when Gruber sold her house in Baldwin, but the costs were astronomical.

“Here she can still have some independence,” Gokey said. “She likes to walk to town. A volunteer program is so important. Not everyone has family to take care of them.”

Gruber said seniors need help with everyday tasks, such as getting to the doctor, the dentist and the grocery story in order to keep functioning on their own. Some might enjoy a young person simply setting aside some time for a game of checkers, a walk or completing a crossword puzzle together, she said.

“It would be wonderful to have volunteers to share her life with,” Gokey said. “She would like people to come read to her as her vision isn’t what it once was.”

Not an ordinary life

Gruber grew up in St. Paul and met her husband Francis Gruber in high school. He returned from  World War II disabled, Gruber said, after he was critically wounded.

When he was in his 40s, her husband decided to buy a farm in the Town of Spring Lake because he had always dreamed of having one, and he felt it would be a good place for their eight children to finish growing up. They moved from the Cities to a farm near Wilson.

“Now that I think back on it, they worked too hard,” Gruber said of their children, although Gokey gently disagreed. “They had to come back from their schooling and milk the cows.”

Frank, who worked as a bus driver and insurance salesman outside of farming, died at the age of 52, leaving Gruber to care for their children and his beloved farm.

“There are just some things you have to do,” Gruber said of her perseverance through that rough time. She eventually sold the farm and moved into town in Baldwin.

Gruber spent 23 years as the activities director at the Baldwin Care Center, which she adored.

“I think people who hate their job, it must be horrible to go to work,” Gruber said. “I planned a lot of parties.”

Gruber’s independent, hardworking spirit kept her working at the care center until she was 82. Before that, 13 years after her husband died, Gruber wrote and self-published her autobiography, “I Didn’t Stop to Smell the Roses.” Copies are available for checking out at the Spring Valley Public Library.

Gruber is also a published poet. Her poem “Loving Care of Mother Earth” was published in The Space Between: The National Library of Poetry. She won a $5,000 prize and was invited to New York City to recite the poem, but she didn’t make the trip due to lack of funds.

She said she’s always kicked herself for not taking a loan out to go, when she could’ve used her prize money to pay back the loan.

Gruber has always loved music and dancing. She even taught herself to play the autoharp and guitar, and she plays piano by ear. While she no longer sings in any choirs, she loves to hear the music at Sacred Heart Parish during Mass.

Although music, flowers, studying birds and reading are treasured hobbies, none are more important than being a mother to her children, Gruber said.


SVSSP board members are looking for volunteers, potential “clients” and service ideas for when things are in full-swing. Nyeggen can be reached at or 715-698-4092 for more information.

A special committee is also being formed to organize and run the volunteer training program and the group is looking for volunteer adult drivers, among many other needs.

The group’s beginning efforts will focus on rides, regular and purposed phone calls, deliveries such as library books or shopping, minor household tasks, referrals to existing care providers, gardening, general errands and companionship visits.However, no hands-on personal care (such as nails or hair) or medical care will be provided, though referrals for such services will be available.

Find Spring Valley Seniors Staying Put, Inc. on Facebook for more information.