Aho loved to hunt, fish, cook venison

QUETTE – Ellen Koski was 18 when she met the man she would marry.

Growing up on a farm in Humboldt Township, Ellen was friends with other young people in the area.

“My neighbor next door, Aili Muustamma, told me her boyfriend was bringing his cousin over and wanted me to meet him,” she said. “That cousin was John Aho. We went for a ride that day in Aili’s boyfriend’s rumbleseat. Right away, John and I were buddies. We liked to talk about the same things.”

Her parents had not let Ellen date before that.

“They told me not to look at boys. They said I had to be dry behind the ears before I had a boyfriend,” she said. “When it came to John, I said my ears were dry.”

When Ellen was 19, she and John married. They wound up moving to Montana, where John found work as a miner.

“At the age of 9, John was playing in the bar with his cousin. His cousin poked him in the eye and John ended up with a glass eye,” she said. “So he sometimes had trouble getting work.”

Ellen still recalls what job in Montana paid.

“John made $7 a week,” she said. “If we budgeted and were careful, we could get by on that.”

They spent about 14 years in Montana before eventually returning to the Upper Peninsula and native Yooper Ellen enjoyed the outdoors while out west.

“John told me he was going to go hunting and I said ‘I am going to go with you,'” she said. “So my husband bought me a gun. He told me all about hunting. He said to be sure of what you’re shooting at, people don’t have horns.

“We hunted every day of the deer season, right until dark,” she said. “On the last day, I shot a deer.”

The couple also hunted for elk.

“John said to me ‘don’t shoot your toes off,’ but I was the one who shot the elk,” she said. “I asked him ‘who’s shooting their toes off now?’ In two weeks, he didn’t get anything and I got one.”

It was toward twilight when Ellen shot the elk, so the Ahos had to leave the large animal overnight.

“I didn’t sleep that night. I was so nervous someone was going to steal my elk,” she said. “My husband got some guys to come the next morning and help drag the elk back. It was delicious.”

Wild game has always been a favorite food of Ellen’s.

“I can still tell you how to jar your venison,” she said. “That makes a good gravy. Boy, was that good. I like venison.”

And Ellen likes to eat fish and she likes to catch fish.

“I remember one time I was fishing on a log jam and the dog kept leaning up on my leg,” she said. “I heard a noise and hollered to John to cut that out, to stop making noise. I turned and looked up and there on the shore, shaking the bushes, was a bear. The dog had been trying to get me to move. I thought ‘Oh, Johnny. I don’t want to be pushed into the lake.’

“I got out of there,” Ellen said. “I always wondered if that bear went home and told his wife, ‘some dumb Finlander was calling me John.'”

Sharing the catch with others is something else Ellen enjoyed.

“It was fun to get fish for people,” she said. “They’d appreciate it, for sure.”

Ellen is anticipating fun Saturday, when her 100th birthday is marked with a party for her family and friends, along with what she considers another family, the staff at Norlite Nursing Center, where she has lived for 10 years.

Also attending will be friends from Bethany Lutheran Church in Republic: Ellen is the congregation’s oldest member.

“Faith in God is important,” she said. “You can always pray. No matter how bad things are, God will straighten things out.”

Ellen still is a bit surprised at how quickly her first 10 decades of life have gone by.

“Things have a changed so much in the last 100 years. I do remember the good old days,” she said. “My life has been good and there’s nothing I would change about it.”

Does she have a secret to making it to 100?

“I couldn’t tell you. I wish I could,” she said. “I guess I would say it was minding my own business.”

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.