By Joe Stumpe
Don’t expect Edna Hall to single out one remarkable day from her remarkably long life.
“My life was all pretty interesting,” Hall, who will turn 107 on Jan. 31, said. “I was a farm girl and there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do on a farm.”
She might keep a walker handy these days, but Hall has a firm grip, vivid memory and mischievous laugh.
Born in McPherson County, near Conway, in 1912, when William Howard Taft was in the White House and World War I had not yet started, Edna moved with her family to a farm outside Dighton when she was about two years old.
She was the fifth of seven children who rode a horse-and-buggy to school five miles every day. She milked cows before school and drove a cultivator hitched to four horses to tend her father’s cornfields. “My dad didn’t have a tractor ‘til way late,” she recalled.
The dust storms that hit Kansas in the 1930s were another character builder. Airborne soil piled up like snow drifts in and around everything.
“We didn’t have air conditioning. We didn’t have running water, except what came through the windmill. It (dust) came in the house through the windows. All you could do was take gunny sacks, get them wet and hang them in the windows.”
Hall married in her twenties and moved onto a farm that had been in her husband’s family since the 1880s. An old tinted photograph of it hangs in her apartment in the Kansas Masonic Home today, showing a big white farmhouse and barn linked by a picket fence, standing astride a dirt road and green fields. Her husband, Freeman, farmed. They raised three boys. She cooked food from the family’s huge garden, sewed, coped with war-time rations and made her sons learn all the household chores a daughter might have performed.
Edna took jobs in town to help make ends meet. She worked as a night telephone operator when that device was new to Dighton, a town of about 1,000 people in western Kansas.
“When you work for the telephone office at night, you learn a lot. I can’t tell you everything,” she said, letting the thought trail off with a giggle.
She worked as a receptionist for a doctor and as an “office girl” at the Dighton Herald newspaper. “Every week, I called everybody in town for news.
She taught a boy’s Sunday school class for years. “And you know what, they all turned out really good.”
Most of Dighton turned out for Edna’s 100th birthday. She donned a leather jacket and hopped on the back of her nephew’s motorcycle for a block-long ride to a party at her church.
Edna bowled nearly every night and drove herself around Dighton in a Buick until the age of 103. Back problems finally put an end to that, and her family moved her to Wichita in October, worried that she was becoming isolated.
Her longevity is not a complete surprise. One her of sisters lived until she was 103 and two brothers reached the century mark. Asked what physicians think of her, Edna says she has rarely seen one.
Unless a nosy reporter shows up, she doesn’t seem to spend a lot of time thinking about the past. Is there anything she wishes she could have done differently? “I would if I could, but I’m not wishing it.”
She has four grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. Her husband died in 1988.
“She just says ‘Don’t stop, don’t give up,” said her son, Neal, who lives in Wichita and looks in on her most days.
Edna says she’ll spend her birthday “just like always.” Maybe Neal and she will play a game of marbles called “Aggravation.”
She would rather be back in Dighton. She’s brought family photos and a little of her glass collection to Wichita, but most of her belongings remain in her home in western Kansas.
“I’ve still got my car keys,” she said. “I’ve still got my license, and I’ve still got my car.”
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