When Elsie Koeneman cast her vote last Friday, as early voting for this election came to a close, she continued a dedication that began when she was 21 years old and cast her first vote for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
It has been 78 years since that first vote. Elsie Koeneman, who also just celebrated her 99th birthday this week, shows up for every election -- either at the polls on election day or through early voting.
“I’ve never missed an election since 1932,” said Koeneman. “I was 21, and I voted for President Roosevelt.”
Koeneman subscribes to theory that active participation in government requires getting out to vote. “People sit at home and gripe and then they don’t vote,” Elsie said. “If I didn’t vote, then my vote wouldn’t count. I believe in voting in every election.”
Koeneman was born and raised in Hurst, Ill., and lived in the house she was born in until 2003 when her daughter, Pat Nichols, convinced her to move to Maryville. “My daughter thought I was too old to live by myself. I lived in the house I was born in until I was 92,” she said.
At the time of the interview she was 98 and said she would turn 99 on Sunday, Aug. 1. “I was born in 1911,” she said.
Koeneman said voting was a family affair. “We always took the grandkids to vote. How else would they learn?” she said.
Koeneman said she has one daughter, two grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren. Nichols said she and her mother live at Windsor Manor in Maryville.
Nichols said she married into a family who had the same attitude as Koeneman. “If we missed an election, we’d be disowned,” she said with a laugh. “We don’t have any sympathy for those who don’t vote. I think it is your privilege.”
Mary Gregory of Townsend was at the Blount County Election Commission participating in early voting as well. She shook Koeneman’s hand and thanked her for voting. “I think it’s fantastic. It is really encouraging because that is what makes our country great,” Gregory said.
Libby Breeding, Blount County administrator of elections, said she was impressed with Koeneman coming in to vote, especially on 95-degree day. “We don’t have many people come in at age 99. She gets around better than half the voters,” Breeding said. “That someone like that would come out in the hottest part of the day and make the effort to vote is an example. No one has an excuse to not vote.”