One of North Dakota's oldest residents celebrates 106th birthdayHer eyesight is nearly gone, her hearing is diminished but the stories and the memory of 106-year-old Mary Schneider are as vivid as could ever be.
By: Ben Rodgers , The Dickinson Press
ASHLEY — Her eyesight is nearly gone, her hearing is diminished but the stories and the memory of 106-year-old Mary Schneider are as vivid as could ever be.
Schneider spent most of her life farming the North Dakota prairie and today marks her 106th birthday here.
Up until last January, the great-grandmother and oldest resident in McIntosh County lived in her own apartment and kept busy sewing, quilting and playing cards.
But that’s not the way it always was. She grew up one of 13 Brandenburger children on the family farm near Forbes. She’s the eldest and last remaining child of her parents, who were themselves children of Germans from Russia homesteaders.
Schneider recalls those early school days when during blizzards and extreme North Dakota cold spells her father would transport all the children to school by horse and sleigh. That changed after eighth grade.
“I had to take care of all the little ones,” she said.
Mother and father tended to the cattle, sheep, horses and hogs. While they cared for the livestock, Schneider spent her time at home cooking and feeding all her younger siblings.
“It wasn’t so hard, but a lot of work,” she said.
The work didn’t stop when she married John Schneider in 1925. They moved about 10 miles west and started their own family farm.
But it wasn’t all fun as the Dust Bowl took a toll on their livestock and they were forced to feed the animals with whatever they could find.
“We didn’t have no crops so we did thistles and hay and weeds,” Schneider said.
The farm got electricity from a rural electric co-op in 1951 and with that came a stove, lights and a fridge.
But Schneider still dried clothes by hand, even in the winter.
“A lot of times she’d bring them in frozen, that was in the living room,” said her daughter, Shirley Fleming, Ashley. “(It) always smelled fresh in there.”
For entertainment she went to barn dances in different haylofts, where the neighbors provided the music.
“There was always somebody that played,” Schneider said.
As a mother she also got outside more and helped with the hay harvest.
She stacked hay stacks on the wagon while her daughter, Shirley Fleming, drove the cart.
“I’d catch heck when it (the cart) went around the corner and grain fell out the side,” Fleming said.
Fleming remembers her mom’s lunches for the family during those hay harvests, a chicken butchered that morning washed down with pop.
Schneider was also busy preserving food.
“I did all the canning,” she said.
Schneider said she canned watermelon, cucumbers, pickles, chicken and sausage.
Turning past the century mark didn’t stop the canning either; last summer she helped Fleming can 75 quarts of pickles.
This is after she lost most of her eyesight to macular degeneration about 10 years ago.
She went through a series of transitions before entering the Ashley Nursing Home last January.
Although she’s visited many states, Schneider is glad she’s chosen North Dakota for all 106-plus years of her life.
“I like the people around here,” she said of southeastern North Dakota.
The biggest change she said she noticed in all her years in North Dakota: “I can’t work like I used to,” she said.
Her vision problem keeps her from some of her favorite pastimes, one of which is pinochle.
Just ask her daughter-in-law, Ella Nora Schneider, Forbes.
“If she could see, she would play the best pinochle with you,” Ella Nora said.
Schneider is the mother of three children, grandmother of three and great-grandmother of three.
Rodgers is a reporter with The Jamestown Sun, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.