Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

By Daniel Thompson

Local resident Fern Stahla recounts a long and happy life


Penny Merryfield

Fern Stahla, 103, is still just as independent as ever, living alone in her apartment in Kimball.

Local resident Fern Stahla continues to show that age is merely a number.

Stahla, 103, who was born on October 25, 1910 in Ordway, Colorado, grew up in a time much different than the one enjoyed by present day children and teenagers with the technological age and social media sites that are ever prominent in common daily routines and discussion.

Instead, Stahla spent the early years of her life helping her parents farm on their plot in Greeley, Colorado with her siblings George, Hannah, Kate, Lena, Liddy, and twins Reuben and Helen.

"We went to school and when it was spring time we went out into the fields and worked in the beet fields all summer long. We went to summer school so we could stay out when it was harvest time and pick potatoes and beets," Stahla said.

Though her time as a child in Greeley went by without much incident, Stahla recalls that while living in Kansas briefly in the first few years of her life a storm came that took away all of her family's possessions including her own birth certificate.

"We were in a tornado. We had just a little bit of bedding left after that. And they found that in a tree quite a ways away from where we lived. When the tornado came we went into a dugout until it was over and then we came over and looked for our things," Stahla said.

In her time on the farm in Greeley, after moving back from Kansas, Stahla remembers working in the fields waiting for her mother to bring lunch so she and her siblings could take a much needed break.

"She would come out and bring us some lunch. We had an early breakfast and she'd bring out lunch at about 9:30. We always liked when she brought out lunch because we got to rest a while," Stahla said.

During the summer time, Stahla would work out in the field hoeing weeds and thinning beats readying for the harvest of picking potatoes and beets in the fall.

Though she and her siblings would spend all day in the fields, they still found time to enjoy the outdoors and play like all the other kids of the area when their chores were done for the day.

"We had fights and we had a lot of fun. And when we worked out in the field we still had fun. After we got home working 8 hours in the field, we still ran around and played until we had to get home and go to bed early," Stahla said. "We had neighbors that we knew. They didn't go out. There were too tired after they got home. They didn't want to go off and play anymore."

Work would become a central theme in Stahla's life as she moved on from working in the fields during the summer and fall months to spend the winter working in the beanery in Greeley where she would pick out the tear and separate the rest into a bin.

"You had to pick that all out, rocks and dirt. At first they paid us $.25 by the bin then they changed it to where we were all paid the same. You had to put them down on the table, pick up the tear and put it in the tear box and put the rest in the bin," Stahla said.

It wasn't long into her life that she met her husband, Carl, who would come to Greeley from Kimball to pick up produce and wait across the street at the park from her house.

The couple was married in March of 1935 at St. John's Church on the north side of the tracks in Kimball and the wedding party was joined in their celebration by a local marching band, according to Stahla.

"We played music and we marched to the church," Stahla said.

Fern and Carl lived on the Kenny Ranch in Kimball before moving to the Maginnis place on the west side of Kimball where Fern and Carl ran a dairy and bottled milk and delivered it in town, taking their milk cows that dried up to a pasture out by where the Kimball High School now stands. Fern and Carl would also harvest potatoes, occasionally receiving help from her father in the fields along the way.

"Dad came and worked for us. He worked out in the field with a team of horses. I remember the team of horses running away one day and he fell off. He didn't get hurt, and the horses didn't run very far," Stahla said.

Fern also remember the great blizzard of 1949 which was mentioned in countless news articles and magazines of the time, noting that the only trouble she encountered came after the storm.

"We were snowed in for two days. We stayed warm. We had turkeys, and they survived the storm. But after the storm somebody came and stole them. We worked and kept them all winter long, and then somebody came and took them," Stahla said with a chuckle.

Though Stahla spent many years in Kimball, She and her family also called Bushnell home for a brief time. While in Bushnell, Fern continued her long history of work, helping to cook and do laundry for the local restaurant.

"They had the restaurant, and they brought all the laundry over to my house and I did the laundry," Stahla said.

Stahla also worked the evenings cleaning the Bushnell High School.

Throughout the years, Stahla's family grew as her four children Larry, Virginia, Judy and Donald were born. Don Stahla, who spends time playing cards with his mother in her apartment from time to time jokes that his mother had to raise a second family, because of the age gap between him and his siblings.

"Poor mom, she had to raise two families, because everybody was about to leave and then there comes me," Don said.

When asked how she felt when she found out she would be a mother for the fourth time, Stahla smiled and showed that she still has a sense of humor after all these years.

"I was probably unhappy," Stahla said with a laugh. "But I loved him."

Love was a common presence in the Stahla home between Fern and Carl and their children, shining through in the actions taken when the work days were over and all they had left was twilight time of the night which Fern and Carl spent dancing or singing around the house.

"We liked to sing every evening. Before we went to bed, we sang," Stahla said.

Fern and Carl's bond grew and grew through their 50 years of marriage, only being severed by Carl's passing in July of 1985 from a battle with cancer, but not before he kept one last promise to Fern and himself, according to Don.

"My dad got cancer in December and he said, 'Well I'm going to make it to our anniversary and we're going to dance.' So we had a 50th wedding anniversary and dad and mom danced. He lived another 4 months and planted his potatoes and harvested them in July and died the 28th of July. He had his mind made up that he had to do all that so he could go rest. And mom was right beside him all the way," Don said.

After Carl's passing Stahla continued to work, spending her spare time cleaning her church, a job she had undertaken for nearly 40 years, only retiring at the age of 90, due to a car accident, receiving a plaque from the church members for her many years of service, according to Don.

"We had a car accident that broke her arm and she said , 'Well now I guess I'm going to have to retire.' And she wasn't ready yet. Nobody at the church remembered how long she had been cleaning at the church so the plaque just said, 'For many faithful years'," Don said.

Though Stahla has spent her life working and has seen the rise and fall of countless trends and newer technologies and social practices, there's one thing that Stahla has yet to acquire: a driver's license. Stahla says that it just never seemed to interest her much.

"I really didn't care to drive anyway," Stahla said.

Though she never got an official driver's license, Stahla recalls driving the truck from field to field on her farm with her children reeling with excitement over the unusual sight.

"I drove out in the fields with the truck from place to the other and drove the tractor. The kids were with me one day, and I drove the truck from one field to the other and they were so excited, 'Mama, can drive. Mama can drive,' they yelled," Stahla said.

Though Stahla has long been retired, she remains active. She goes to church every Sunday at the First English Lutheran Church where she's been a member since the new church was built on Webster. She also plays cards with her son Don, and in the past few years has been dying quilts as a hobby. She's also part of the women's group at the church where she used to go and help them with their quilting once a week. And they sent them overseas for world relief.

Stahla also stays widely independent at 103, doing her own laundry and cooking her own meals, watching a little television here and there and "keeping her chair warm". However, Stahla is adamant about the fact that she does not take naps, as many would think that she does.

"I don't take naps. I sit in my chair and rest my eyes," Stahla said.

Stahla also refuses to let anybody tell her that she is a day older than 100, according to Don.

"When she turned 101, she said, 'I'm 100, and I always be 100,'" Don said.

Though her working years are done and many of the different routines that she used to have have fallen by the wayside with time, her love for dancing still remains, indulging in her old past time with her son Don at a family reunion last summer, even though they were the only ones that would dance.

"Ray played that good music and nobody would dance. Don and I danced. I love to dance, Stahla said.

Looking back on all her accomplishments and the hard work that she poured into every aspect of her life, when asked what achievement sticks out above all the others, Stahla gave a simple answer.

"I raised my family," Stahla said. "I'm very proud of my children."


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