Virginia Milbert’s bucket list got shorter Monday — on her 100th birthday.

Around 7:45 a.m., a limousine rolled up to her South St. Paul home, surprising her with a lift to her morning workout at the YMCA in West St. Paul.

“I’d never been in a limo,” said Milbert, who usually drives herself to the Y.

The chauffeured round-trip ride, paid for by a YMCA member who wanted to remain anonymous, was part of a birthday celebration organized by Y staff and members and friends. It included cake, cards and gifts — and lots of well-wishing. It brought Milbert to tears.

“Thank you,” she said after the group sang “Happy Birthday” and gave her a round of applause. “Every single one of you.”
Milbert, who is known to most by her nickname, “Ginger,” has been a Y member since 1993, working out for an hour on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

“I love it,” she said. “If you sit, you die, you know.”

Rose Fairbanks, 77, said Milbert never misses a workout.

“She’s my incentive,” she said.

Naomi Marzinske, who instructs the workout class, said Milbert has been an inspiration to others for years.

“She leads by example,” Marzinske said.

Indeed, said Kathy Grinsteinner, 68, who met Milbert in the class two years ago.

“I was complaining and thinking that it was too hard to do,” Grinsteinner said. “But I had Ginger behind me, and I decided that I better be quiet and just do it.”

Grinsteinner volunteers with Milbert at Neighbors Inc., a South St. Paul food shelf. Milbert sat on the first committee that formed Neighbors in 1972, and she still volunteers Tuesday and Thursday mornings sorting and pricing used clothing.

“Love it,” Milbert said. “I’m doing some good, and it makes me feel good. And you need something to make you feel good.”

Joan Rhodes, director of programs at Neighbors, said she admires Milbert’s positive attitude.

“My granddaughter volunteered with Virginia one day,” Rhodes said, “and she said after, ‘When I get to be old, I want to be just like her.’ She just has this peacefulness and love of life, and it’s infectious.”

Rhodes said Milbert’s sassy side keeps things lively at Neighbors.

“I guess I just made up my mind a long time ago that I wasn’t going to be a crabby old lady,” Milbert said.

Neighbors Inc. will throw another birthday celebration for Milbert, at 11 a.m. Thursday; it’s open to the public. 

As far as her health, Milbert said she’s “feeling pretty good” and credits her genes and lifestyle.

“That’s what everybody asks me … ‘How are you doing it?’ It’s funny. It’s genes, I guess. I think I come from a family that lived longer,” said Milbert, who grew up in Maple Plain and graduated from Wayzata High School in 1935. “And, of course, I never smoked. I tried it once and it tasted so bad I said, ‘That’s for the birds.’ I didn’t like Coca-Cola, either, so I cut out the soft drinks.”

Mibert’s mind is “sharp as a tack,” said 68-year-old Melane Milbert, one of her three daughters.

In 2011, Milbert wanted to skydive as part of a fundraising campaign for Neighbors. Her daughters “squashed that,” she said. “They figured if I broke my leg they’d have to take care of me, and they didn’t want that. I sure wanted to go for it.”