Kansas woman inspires at age 108
GOODLAND, Kan. (AP) — Fortunately, Margaret Bauman has never minded telling people how old she is. She’s been doing it for more than a century.
Bauman, 108, is surely a contender for oldest living Kansan and no doubt has spent more years in Sherman County than anyone else.
“She’s the oldest person that we know and love,” said Cindy Pletcher, one of several local people who assist Bauman with whatever she needs. “Margaret is an inspiration to all who meet her. People in our town care so much about Margaret.”
Sitting in the kitchen of her Goodland home recently — where the Happy Birthday! banner from her 100th birthday has hung on the wall for eight years now — Margaret shared memories from her long life.
Her earliest memories stretch back to the dugout where her parents homesteaded — 12 to 15 miles south of Goodland near the Sherman-Wallace county line. She was born there in April 1910, and her first recollection is of the day her baby brother, Howard, was born.
She told the Salina Journal that when her mother knew the baby was about to come, she sent Margaret’s 4-year-old brother, James, with a note for the midwife who lived about half a mile away. She tied 11-month-old Margaret to an old kitchen chair to keep track of her while they awaited Mrs. Applegate, the midwife.
“I decided it would be fun to go, ‘Dee-Doh-Fi-Doh’” Margaret sang, while demonstrating how she rocked back and forth. “I fell face down on the packed dirt floor. That worried my mother. I don’t know how she got me up, but the midwife was there soon, and my younger brother was born.”
A couple of years later, Margaret’s family left the dugout and moved to an old one-room schoolhouse near Ruleton, where they used flour sacks to partition off two bedrooms from the big room that served as the kitchen and living space. During cold months, the family was joined inside by baby calves.
“It was just natural to bring them in,” she said. “They were little baby calves, and they needed help. We didn’t want them to freeze to death out on the prairie.”
The children looked forward to Christmas, although “sometimes there was nothing and sometimes there was an orange,” she said.
Margaret’s father farmed their quarter of land but mostly worked for larger landowners in the area. When she was 5, he got hurt and while he was unable to work, he taught her the Lord’s Prayer.
By age 9, Margaret was helping her father by herding the cattle. Their pasture was not fenced in, so a barefoot Margaret and her pony would escort the small herd from one grassy area to the next from morning until nearly evening. She took with her an egg sandwich and a bottle of water.
Once while she was herding with her pony, Margaret got caught in barbed wire, and she still has scars on her thigh from the experience. She said she’d been trying to hold the fence wire down for the pony and the cows to cross, but the barbs stuck her bare feet, so she let it go. The fence sprang back up, raking her thigh and catching the pony’s hind leg.
While the injury might have meant stitches and antibiotics now, at that time penicillin had yet to be discovered, and the gaping wounds were left to heal on their own. She missed a whole year of school, and a doctor said if she lived through it she’d “carry those scars to the grave.”
Margaret loved school. Her father ordered each of the children a new pair of shoes from the Montgomery Ward catalog before the school year began in September. They had to wear them whether they fit or not, she said.
“A time or two they were tight,” she said. “I got awful crooked toes.”
Margaret wore clothing to school that her mother sewed, usually from flour sacks. Once, she showed everyone in the class her new bloomers with the “Pride of the Prairie” logo across the seat.
For her eighth-grade graduation, her father ordered her a special white dress because all of the girls were wearing white.
“They must have been out of white dresses because they sent a navy blue one,” she said.
During the summer, Margaret would help with harvest. She drove six horses that pulled the header while cutting wheat.
“I wore overalls all the time, and I got so sick and tired of overalls,” she said. “To this day, I’ve never liked to wear slacks. I’m a skirt person. I think slacks are fine, but I’m just a skirt person.”
Margaret said all through her childhood, eggs — and even more so potatoes — were what the family lived on. She said she would peel potatoes and cut them into chunks for frying for breakfast, and for lunch they’d eat them boiled.
“The folks let us choose in a day whether we wanted a can of tomatoes or a can of peas or a can of corn,” she said. She said her dad always grew beans in the garden, and they ate a lot of them as well.
“I still like them to this day,” she said. “I like beans in any form you put them out.”
After completing eighth grade, Margaret pleaded with her parents to let her go on to high school, promising to work for room and board. They agreed, and she remembers working hard while boarding with a family in Goodland. Sometimes, she said, she was still ironing as midnight neared.
Margaret got her degree in “normal training” upon graduating from Goodland High School, which qualified her to teach at a rural school. She moved back to her parents’ house to help with expenses while she earned $90 a month teaching at a nearby school.
She said she packed her lunch of homemade bread and left early on the three-mile walk to school so she had time to start a fire in the potbelly stove and get the school warmed up before the children arrived. The first year she taught, she had six students of all ages in all different grades.
“I didn’t have much trouble with any of them,” she said. “I loved all the kids that I taught and in turn most of them acted like they liked me.”
She developed a special bond with a second-grader named Catherine who was in the first class she taught. Catherine, now 98 and living in California, continues to correspond with Margaret.
During the Great Depression, her wages were cut to $30 a month for five years, but she continued to teach through most of the Dirty ’30s. On days when “black blizzards,” or massive dust clouds, rolled in, she would escort the children home if their parents couldn’t pick them up.
Her life changed after a good-looking young farmer bought her raisin pie at one of the school’s pie socials. She didn’t immediately marry Leonard Bauman because teachers weren’t allowed to marry, but their courtship continued until 1937. That year the prohibition on marriage was lifted, and she and Leonard were wed.
Thanks to Leonard, Margaret got electricity in her home as well as her first car, a 1929 wine-colored Chevrolet Coupe. Leonard was Catholic, so Margaret joined the church before they got married there. She’s now been an active member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church and the ladies’ auxiliary for 81 years.
Leonard, who worked as a mechanic and a farmer, lost vision in one of his eyes when a piece of steel got in it, so he wasn’t drafted during World War II. Instead, he and Margaret worked on building their home in Goodland. She remembers laying the linoleum.
During their 65 years of marriage, Leonard and Margaret lived in that house. They raised their children, Darryl and Becky, there, and Margaret continues to live in the home she loves.
“If I should die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take — right here,” she said.
When Sherman County celebrated its 130th anniversary two years ago, a 106-year-old Margaret rode in a convertible in the parade.
In recent years, she’s enjoyed playing bingo or cards at the senior center. She continues to exercise, and she still loves to read the Salina Journal and other publications “until my eyes get tired.” She regularly watches Wheel of Fortune, Little Big Shots, Lawrence Welk Show reruns and Jeopardy!
Margaret has in the past speculated that her longevity could have something to do with her early diet of potatoes. She continues to appreciate good health.
“My life has been 108 years of happiness and sorrows, but I’m happy to be alive,” she said. “I love every day!”
Information from: The Salina (Kan.) Journal, http://www.salina.com