Looking back 100 yearsRetired Belfield farmer Anton (Tony) Heck has witnessed a century of America’s history. He was born Feb. 17, 1913 — the same year Woodrow Wilson was elected president, the U.S. Postal Service began parcel post deliveries and the United States introduced an income tax.
By: Linda Sailer, The Dickinson Press
Retired Belfield farmer Anton (Tony) Heck has witnessed a century of America’s history. He was born Feb. 17, 1913 — the same year Woodrow Wilson was elected president, the U.S. Postal Service began parcel post deliveries and the United States introduced an income tax.
Heck credits his longevity to good home cooking on the farm.
“He always says age is just a number, you’re only as old as you feel,” daughter-in-law Georgian Heck said.
Heck was born to Jacob and Christine (Lantz) Heck on a family farm near Scheffield. The home was built of mud and stone with dirt floors. He had five brothers, Edward, Val, Dave, Matt and Frank, and sisters, Rose and her twin sister. The twin died on the ship and was buried at sea during their 30-day trip to America from Russia.
At age 5, his mother and brother, Edward, died during the 1918 flu epidemic. They were buried in the same coffin. Heck remembers the wagon coming to take them away.
His 11-year-old sister, Rose, took over the chores of cooking, cleaning, baking and washing clothes. Heck boarded the Scheffield Catholic School through eighth grade.
As boys, Heck and his brothers were given the job of herding the milk cows.
“We went on foot every day to the pastures — there were no fences then,” he said. “We stayed with the cattle until night and brought them in again.”
They found things on the prairie to eat such wild berries and onions.
As a youth and an adult, Heck enjoyed playing baseball — serving as the pitcher. He and his teammates would ride horses to wherever the games were played.
He also loved music, and in his teen years he learned to play the accordion, banjo, violin and organ.
“I could play them all and would still play if I could see better,” he said.
He and his family would play at wedding and barn dances, each earning $1 for a dance.
When crops were poor and money was short in 1923, Heck and a brother had to live with the neighbors and work for them. And at age 17, his dad made him work at the South Heart grocery store, where he learned to candle eggs.
When Heck was 19, he and his friends hopped a freight train, looking for jobs. They worked their way to Washington state and Idaho, working for farmers and making their beds in the straw piles. When they reached the western states, he worked for two years. He returned home, giving the money he earned to his father.
On Nov. 19, 1940, he married his sweetheart, Monica Froehlich, whom he met at a barn dance.
“Monica was a country girl — no foolishness, no drinking and a good worker,” he said. “Now my daughters are exactly the same.”
The Hecks were married in the Gaylord country church, which was near the farm they purchased in 1941.
Heck farmed with horses until the late 1940s when he and his brother built a tractor out of a Model T Ford car, then with smaller tractors including the John Deere As and Bs. He purchased his last tractor in 1977 — a four-wheel-drive John Deere 7520. The same tractor is still on the farm.
“Now, of course, it’s much easier,” Heck said. “But now you have to fertilize this and add that — all of that stuff is expensive.”
The Hecks became the parents of nine children — Raymond, Bernice, Florence, Charlene, Esther, Kenny, Herb, Jean and Ed. Heck has 20 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.
He was active in the community, serving on town and country school boards for 35 years. During the 1940s, the school board helped teachers by buying tires for their cars so the teachers could afford to teach in the country schools. Tires were considered expensive then, and rubber was rationed due to the war.
Heck’s wife died April 13, 1981, and he lived alone after that. However, he was never completely alone, as his son, Raymond, and wife, Georgian lived next door.
Heck was able to farm and keep feeding the country until he was 90 years old with his son, Raymond.
“I was still combining when I was 89 years old,” Heck said.
Raymond described him as easy-going, but always needing to be the boss.
“He’s quite a guy — he’s still sharp,” he added.
Daughter Charlene Johnson described her dad as hard-working and honest.
“He absolutely loved farming and that’s all he ever wanted to do,” she said.
She remembers him for his gentleness toward family.
“He’d lose his temper with the farming equipment, but I have to say he was quite lenient and gentle with us,” she said. “I never once heard him and mother argue and he never blamed his kids when something went wrong.”
Heck also is a long-time subscriber to The Dickinson Press, recalling when a yearly subscription was $2.50.
“He feels it is important to keep up with all the news and keep your mind active,” Georgian Heck said.
Due to his failing eyesight, Heck went live with his daughter, Esther Vance in Watford City.
“I don’t have much to worry about — I pretty much sleep twice a day and eat three times,” he joked.
He is the only surviving member of his family. He will celebrate his 100th birthday today with family and friends at Watford City.
A community birthday party in his honor is planned for July.