A Milestone Birthday, Two Parties, and 100 Years of Memories
Mary Hoppe thought she had seen nearly everything in her lifetime. She has lived through the Great Depression, two world wars, party-line telephones, black-and-white television, and in a time of no electricity, indoor plumbing, or air conditioning.
But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020.
“You might say she’s seen it all now,” said Mary’s older son, Dick.
Mary grew up on a farm four miles outside of Watertown in the town of Shields on the corner of Provimi Road and Highway K.
“I think that the farm food kept her going to 100 years old,” Dick said. “Back then you could eat a lot of meat and so-called hot dishes. You didn’t care about grease and lard.”
Mary lived on that same farm for 97 years and raised three children there before moving to Highland House in 2018.
“I had never lived in a city before,” said Mary. “I like the farm life.”
Mary has been a patient on Rainbow’s Supportive Care Management program since the end of February, 2021. Supportive care management is a special kind of palliative care that helps patients, families, and professional caregivers who are struggling with the burdens associated with advancing chronic disease.
“Rainbow started providing supportive care management back in 2016,” said Tracy Hildebrandt, RN and manager of the program. “It is provided by a specially-trained team who works together with all the patient’s providers to set goals, coordinate care, and provide expert symptom relief. It is appropriate at any age in a serious illness and can be provided along with aggressive, life- prolonging treatment. The goal is always to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family.”
Mary had to grow up fast. Her father passed away when she was only nine years old and the family had to hire several relatives as farmhands to keep the farm running.
Several years later, a man named Herbert wandered across the road looking for additional work. Eventually, the Irish farm girl fell in love with the German farmhand and he became Mary’s husband.
After they got married in 1945 they purchased the farm themselves with some help from Mary’s uncle.
“We went over to my uncle’s and under a big bush he dug up a can of money,” Mary said. “This was after the Depression and nobody trusted banks.”
On their farm, they raised a bunch of cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, and occasionally ducks.
“We never ate a sheep,” said Mary’s youngest son, David. “They were more like pets.”
One sheep they affectionately named George. He was bottle-fed and would come out of his shed when he was called.
“One day they called his name and I heard this stomping sound and I thought, “Oh my heavens, did that sheep get out?” Mary said. “Here he came right in the house.”
Besides helping her husband with the farming, Mary also slaughtered chickens and collected hickory nuts for income.
“We had a lot of good times and met a lot of good people,” Mary said. “We picked up hickory nuts in our woods and sold them. Even today, people will come up to me and say “Oh, how they miss my good dress chickens that I sold to them.”
Mary’s husband also drove a school bus for almost 15 years and was treasurer for the town of Shields for 40 years. Mary would help him do the bookwork and collect the taxes.
But that wasn’t all. She helped out on the town election board and was a member of a homemaker club. She also worked at the Aunt Nellie’s canning company in Clyman and had a job cleaning at the former Nite Cap Motel and the Candle-Glo Motel in Watertown for several years.
“So it’s about time you retire.” David joked.
Through all her hard work Mary still found time to have fun. She would dress up in a Santa Claus suit sometimes and visit her family and the local taverns in Richwood.
“My sister had younger kids and I didn’t want them to see me in the Santa Claus suit again and I so I changed in the barn and when I went home I saw the heifers chewed it all up and that was the end of the Santa Claus suit,” Mary said.
Mary also is strong in her faith and was a lifetime member of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Richwood. 2000 was probably the toughest year for her. Mary’s husband died of a heart attack in November of that year and then three weeks later, her daughter Kathy passed away from multiple sclerosis (MS) at the age of 55.
Last June, Mary’s 99th birthday turned out to be a great day considering it was during the COVID-19 pandemic. The staff at Highland House in Watertown had organized a drive-by parade for Mary and she was able to wave to her family and friends as they honked their horns and dropped off cards. The only thing that would have made it better would have been being able to hug her loved ones.
Just within the last month, her family was finally able to visit with Mary in her room.
“You could feel the difference to actually touch somebody instead of seeing them through a window or talking on the phone,” David said.
This year for her 100th birthday, Mary was able to gather with a group of family and few close friends, including her sons David and Dick for a party they organized for her at the Watertown Senior Center on Saturday, June 12. Dick and his family made the trip from Colorado for the special occasion. All five of her grandchildren and several of her great-grandchildren also arrived to surprise the birthday girl, which made the day even more special. Mary has 13 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren in all.
Mary with her five grandchildren.
“We had about 75 people. It wasn’t too big and wasn’t too small,” Dick said.
The celebration carried over into Sunday on her official birthday. Mary went to church with some family at St. Bernard’s Catholic Church in Watertown and then they came back to Highland House for a second party, for dinner, cake, and ice cream with the residents and staff.
What Mary misses most about being away from her farm though is gardening, the chickens, and the interaction with all her neighbors. Mary has seen a lot of changes over the years. From farming with horses to the massive tractors of today.
“Farming is far different today than it was in my day,” Mary said.
“She had a typical farm life during those years compared to farmers today,” Dick said. “Most probably don’t have a garden and don’t raise a lot of animals. It’s more like a company, or dairy today.”
Mary still owns the farm and has 40 acres of land left. She also rents out some of her farmland to nearby neighbors. Currently, her grandson lives in the house and they only milk cows now. Their farm has become an area landmark of sorts, as it’s been in the family for multiple generations, spanning almost 150 years. It was honored at the state fair when it hit the 100-year mark.
For Mary and her sons, the farm is a place filled with memories to last a lifetime.
“We had a great family life,” David said.
“It was nothing elaborate. Sometimes it got a little rough, but we always managed,” Mary said.