Archive for Thursday, July 1, 2004

A century of living

Baldwin woman remains busy as she nears 100

July 1, 2004

Turning 100 years old was something Bernice Kohler really never considered. But it's an idea with which she will soon become accustomed, because the Baldwin woman will be celebrating her 100th birthday Sunday.

"I never thought about living to be 100, not until lately," Kohler said. "But I thought I've come this far, I might as well just hang in there."

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The 99-year-old is doing anything but just hanging in there. In fact, looking at Kohler, one might find it hard to believe she's nearly 100. The spry, petite woman, who is known as Be to her friends and Granny Be to her several grandchildren and great-grandchildren, is quick to answer the door for visitors and even quicker with her humor and laugh.

She's a little hard of hearing, but refuses to wear her hearing aid.

"They say I should get two hearing aids instead of one," she said. "But I'd rather jingle my money. I hear all I want to hear anyway."

Kohler only occasionally needs to use a walker, or sometimes a small wooden walking stick when she is outdoors.

"I use the stick out here in case the ground is uneven," she said.

On the farm

And Kohler covers a lot of ground when she is outside. She lives two miles west of Baldwin Junction on a sprawling farm, where her 100-year-old, two-story farm house is set just off of the road. Her son and daughter-in-law, Cecil and Mary Ann Kohler, live in a house directly behind her on the same farm.

Though she has family that close, Kohler still does most everything, including cooking and cleaning, for herself.

"I keep busy," she said.

She gets up every day around 5:30 or 6 a.m., and spends part of each morning walking a mile around the farm.

"I walk to the end of the farm and down to the crick and back," she said. "In the winter time, I'm always walking by 7:30 before the wind comes up."

When she finishes her walk, she tackles a number of chores including keeping her uncluttered farm house immaculately clean.

"I keep my own house and I do my own curtains," she said. "I keep it as clean as I can."

But cleaning isn't one of her favorite things to do.

"I'd rather be out digging in the earth," she said.

Kohler spends a lot of her time outside in her garden, which is full of potatoes, corn, beans, lettuce and dill.

"I also grow swiss chard," she said. "I share it with the donkey. The donkey loves it."

She also has several flower beds along the sides of the house, and more flowers planted among the vegetables in her garden.

Kohler said she doesn't think twice about spending most of a day in her garden because that is where she feels most comfortable.

"You're closer to God's heart in the garden than you are any other place on Earth," she said.

When her garden doesn't have her attention, Kohler also spends time cooking, making hook rugs and reading.

"I like to read, but not in the summer. There's too much to do," she said. "But I read five to six books a month in the winter."

A busy life

Kohler is used to keeping busy. She grew up in Michigan on a farm with an orchard. Not only did she pick a variety of fruit, she picked weeds for five cents a row.

"We kept busy on the farm," she said.

Kohler married her childhood friend, C.J.

"We were kids together," she said. "Of course, he went one way and I went the other way, but we got back together."

They were married for 62 years and had four children. Her son, Cecil, lives behind her and her daughter, Madalene Lickey, lives in Seattle. Her son, Donald, died seven years ago, and she had another daughter, Marian, who died when she was 2 years old.

Kohler taught in a one-room school house before she quit to raise her family in Michigan.

"Back in those days, that was a chore," she said.

In addition to raising her family, Kohler spent much of her time ice fishing.

"I fished a lot," she said. "I was a great fisherman, especially ice fishing."

In the kitchen

Kohler lived in Michigan until 12 years ago, when she moved to Baldwin. She lived a year in retirement housing before moving to her farm house.

"This is my house," she said. "I love it here."

The love of her house is evident in its upkeep, which includes the white fence surrounding the farm she painted herself until recently.

"They made her give it up two years ago because she passed out in 100 degree heat because she refused to stop," her daughter Lickey said, laughing. "They don't always get smarter with age."

Although her fence painting days might be over, Kohler hasn't stopped her activity in the kitchen. Though she insists she doesn't like cooking much anymore, she is still in the kitchen on a regular basis.

"It's a struggle to keep her from cooking on her own birthday," Lickey said. "But we've decided this is her week. Except for tonight, she will be treated out."

"That's what she thinks," Kohler said.

She keeps so busy, she takes little time to rest during the day.

"I'm not much on laying down and taking a nap," she said. "Cause when I lay down, I think I got this to do and I got that to do. So I more just rest in the chair."

But something must be agreeing with her, because she goes for a doctor's examination every three months and comes back with good reports.

"He says everything is fine," she said. "The other day, he says, 'Well, you're not getting any taller.' And I says, 'Well, I'm not getting any younger either.'"

A recipe for life

Whether it's the cooking or the gardening or the walking, Kohler isn't sure why she's managed to live to 100, especially when no one else in her family has lived that long. But she believes if anything, it's a combination of things.

"I don't drink coffee. I don't smoke. I eat regularly. And I like a little beer now and then," she said with a chuckle.

Kohler also eats a bowl of ice cream every night and occasionally drinks a glass of milk and molasses.

"Well, really, I watch my diet," she said. "And I've always walked a lot. I think you've got to exercise and eat right."

She also thinks God is a reason she's managed to live nearly a century.

"I really think he's guided me all these years, yup," she said. "I don't go to church, but I don't think you need to to have faith."

She said she also owes a lot to her family, especially her son and daughter-in-law.

"I never would have made it without Mary Ann and Cecil," she said. "They keep me on my toes."

After the birthday

Kohler said she's not sure what's in her future, but she knows when she dies, she wants to be buried in Michigan.

"When I die, I'm going right back and being buried on the farm I was raised," she said. "But I told the kids I can't die now because Cecil's haying. And I can't die in September because the calves are being born then. And I can't die in the winter, because the weather's bad and I won't be able to get to Michigan. So I just don't know what I'm going to do. I guess I'm too ornery to die."

Kohler's family will help her celebrate her birthday Saturday with a family dinner, but after that, it's back to work.

"We're already planning next year's garden," Lickey said.

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