By: Christa Meland
When she was just a few years old, Betty Fuller’s grandmother led Sunday School at their church. Each week, the children would bring pennies and plop them into a glass jar while singing “Dropping, dropping, hear the penny fall. Everyone for Jesus, he will get them all.”
That was almost 10 decades ago, at Prospect Park UMC in Minneapolis, where Fuller went to church until age 4. For the past 96 years, she’s been a member of what is now Aldersgate UMC in St. Louis Park. During that period, she’s had 30 different pastors and been in community with thousands of fellow parishioners. Fuller turned 100 earlier this year, and although her faith has grown and changed over the years, it has never wavered—and God has been her constant companion throughout her life.
“I just figure He’s with me with everything that goes on,” she said.
Even to this day, Fuller lives a full life, particularly considering her age. She leads an exercise group every morning at the senior living facility where she resides. At 88, she did an 829-foot controlled jump from atop a hotel in Las Vegas—making her the oldest person ever to do so. At 89, she went skydiving. At 93, she took a ride on the Timber Twister alpine coaster in Duluth. When she was 96, she went hang gliding. Fuller loves to talk about “my exciting life” and thanks God for all of her years of good health and new opportunities.
The early years
In 1926, Fuller’s family of origin moved to a little bungalow on Brook Lane in St. Louis Park, right down the street from Brookside Methodist Church—which they immediately began attending. It was small, consisting of a basement that leaked, and a sanctuary. The church was heated by a wood stove, and Fuller’s brother, Chuck, went early every Sunday to start the fire. Drinking water had to be brought in from two blocks away. Fuller’s mother was the church organist, and her brother hand-pumped the organ so her mother could play. Her dad, meanwhile, was an usher.
Nowadays young children often color or play quietly in the pews during worship, but that wasn’t the case for Fuller and her three siblings during their formative years.
“We had to behave, and if we didn’t, we’d get a nice pinch and I mean a pinch,” she said.
The church had additions put on at three different times, and the parsonage was built next door. Fuller’s father, Edward Ludwig, was the architect for all of them.
Fuller married her late husband, Ralph Fuller, in the church in 1947. She was an active member, singing in the choir, teaching Sunday School, helping in the kitchen at church events, volunteering at a care center, and participating in the Women’s Society. She and her husband also enjoyed the church’s couples club, which met once a month for social time. As part of the bell choir, she traveled cross-country, sleeping overnight in churches as the group performed on the way to and from a national conference.
Fuller remembers with pride a time when the church had more than 1,000 people in worship; she can picture the chairs placed down the aisle and in the back of the sanctuary, the full balcony, and a separate overflow room that housed even more visitors.
In 1950, the church merged with a meeting house and moved to its current location—and Fuller’s mother, Mary Ludwig, named the new joint congregation Aldersgate, after Methodist founder John Wesley’s Holy Spirit moment on a street of the same name.
When Fuller and her husband had children, they knew they wanted to raise them United Methodist—it was important to them to instill the beliefs and values they held dear.
“It just seemed the right thing to do,” said Fuller.
Faith and the future
Reading the Bible, both in small groups and individually, has been a key way Fuller has grown in her faith. She’s read it from cover to cover—and although she didn’t care much for Revelation or Proverbs, she found it very instructive on the whole.
The motto she tries to live by: “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.”
These days, Fuller laments a lot of what she reads in the news, including the war in Ukraine. She prays every night, mostly, she said, “for the unification of the world.”
“Why can’t we just be good to each other?” she wondered aloud. “God just wants us to love one another.”
She also laments that going to church isn’t the norm for families in America as it once was. She fondly recalls the days when Aldersgate had three worship services and three youth pastors.
“I would love to see it totally full again someday in every church,” she said.
What she is thankful for is that she’s back at church after spending more than a year worshiping online from her computer during the pandemic—which didn’t stop her from making and donating hundreds of prayer shawls. As soon as Aldersgate resumed in-person worship, Fuller was there. She used to drive herself to church, but since she gave up driving at age 95, Aldersgate has sent a van every Sunday to pick her up.
Fuller’s daughter, Gail Girard, credits her mother with the life of faith she herself has lived—and she’s grateful that her mother has had a loving church home since her youth.
“Being a person of faith myself, I love seeing that she has faith,” said Girard. “I don’t have to worry about her when she passes on. I know where she’s going to go. That eternal life is important to me.”
Rev. Paul Baudhuin, who pastors Aldersgate UMC, considers himself blessed to know and serve alongside Fuller in the church they both hold dear.
“Betty is a treasure—full of life and joy and love for all humans, and an embodiment of the abundant life Jesus desires for us.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
122 West Franklin Avenue, Suite 400 Minneapolis, MN 55404