German immigrant on goodwill tour of America

A 73-year-old wants to thank America, and she’s doing it one person at a time, in small towns and big cities. This week she dropped in at The Townhouse Cafe in Seymour.

As Hanna Elshoff tells it, she was born in Germany in 1942 to a family that was not entirely supportive of the Nazi party, a dangerous point of view in wartime Germany, and an even more dangerous point of view when her family lived four houses down from a secret Schutzstaffel, or SS, officer’s home. But that’s where the Americans came in.

“On his deathbed, the SS officer told my father, ‘You got lucky the Americans came. I received orders the day before (the Americans arrived) to take you and your family away for not being loyal enough,’” Elshoff said.

Elshoff immigrated to America at 18 and became a United States citizen in 1961. Now she is riding an Elf solar-powered tricycle around the United States on a two-year journey to thank the American people and to see the country.

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When she’s traveling, Elshoff stays with and speaks at Lions Club programs, but she says that’s not entirely the point of her travels.

“I look at Americans different than you do. I see the Americans as the kindest, most generous people,” she said.

The Chatfield, Minnesota, resident says that when she started her trip she had nothing, “not even a spare tire;” but as she has traveled, people have helped her. Now her solar-powered tricycle is loaded with essential gear she found out she would need.

“I’m not trying to raise money for anything, but if people feel they want to give, then there are many charity groups that I can point them too,” said Elshoff, who is an advocate of the Lions Club affiliated Leader Dog Program, Toastmasters and many others.

Members of another organization, Seymour Masonic Lodge 146, were having breakfast Wednesday morning when Elshoff came into the Townhouse Cafe to warm up and get breakfast. After talking to her, they decided to take up an impromptu collection to help her on her travels.

“She’s not out to get anything, but we took up a collection to help,” lodge member Don Kirk said.

“It’s just so humbling to listen to her and hear about her journey,” said Larry McCord, another lodge member.

Elshoff says she has worked many jobs since coming to America, from farming and milking cows to most recently working as a nursing assistant at a nursing home in Rochester, Minnesota, and as a nanny for 25 years. She’s just now been able to find the time to start her journey.

“I originally planned to start at 80, when I was carefree and fanciful,” Elhsoff said. After doing some research into the Elf solar-powered tricycle, she decided 75 would be a better starting age. After she bought one, however, she decided she would start almost immediately. Now she is five months into her travels.

“I started in Rochester on May 1, 2015, and plan to return there on May 1, 2017,” Elshoff said.

“I think it’s just great to see her do this. You hear so much about the hatred for Americans, then you hear her story,” Kirk said.

According to Elshoff, after contacting the local Lions Club on Wednesday morning, she planned to stay in Seymour until possibly Saturday before continuing on her journey. When she leaves, Elshoff will receive an escort by the Seymour Police Department.