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Matilda Still Thankful After 105 Years

Lind, Bob. "Mathilda Still Thankful After 105 Years." Forum, 7 September 2000, C3.


Everybody has a story to tell. Probably many of them.

Today, let's let Matilda Dockter tell us a few of hers.

After all, she's got 105 years to look back on.

That's right: Matilda celebrated her 105th birthday July 31.

The celebration took place at the home of her daughter Vi in Streeter, N.D., where she's lived for the past 2-1/2 years.

One of those who knows Matilda well is Sandi Dewald, also of Streeter. Sandi is writing a book about Germans from Russia. That's where Matilda comes in.

Matilda was born in 1895 in south Russia. She remembers how the grain was harvested there: It was placed in a circle, the horses would trample it and the farmers would lift the straw off with pitchforks and gather the grain.

Separating the grain from the chaff was done by hand.

She came to the U.S., with her parents and her seven brothers and sisters when she was 7, enduring a 21-day boat trip on which she remembers many people being seasick. In fact, sadly, two of her younger siblings became sick on the trip and died in New York.

The family settled for a time on a farm near Kulm, N.D., then homesteaded southwest of Gackle, N.D. Matilda says she was 7 and her brother was 9 when they were hired out to herd cattle to help support the family.

Matilda was 13 when she spent a year in Ashley, N.D., to take care of her grandmother, and she was confirmed in the Lutheran church there. Later, she worked for many people in the area.

She married August Dockter in 1915. She'd met him when she was serving as a waitress at a wedding reception.

The Dockters farmed near Streeter. As any farm wife knows, there was no time to sit around doing crossword puzzles. Matilda did the fieldwork, milked cows, raised chickens, geese, ducks and turkeys, kept house, and, somehow in there, gave birth to and raised seven children.

Apparently that wasn't enough to keep her occupied, however; she also did baby-sitting for other area couples.

Matilda was a good friend of Sandi's grandmother, Albina Dewald. They'd often help each other.

One time Matilda got her chores done early so she could help Albina feed the threshing crews. Albina asked Matilda to cut the cake Albina had made. Matilda did, but noticed it smelled terrible.

Albina tasted her cake, made a face, and realized what she'd done; she'd grabbed the liniment instead of the vanilla.

The threshers didn't get any cake that day.

The Dockters moved into Streeter in 1953. August died in 1954 when he was 61.

Sandi asked Matilda her thoughts earlier this year, when she entered the third century she's seen.

"We can never thank the good Lord enough," Matilda said.

"We don't have to worry that we'll get shot when we leave our homes. We have enough to eat and we have nice warm homes as well as each other and our families."

"How can we ever thank the Lord for all that?"

Good question, Matilda.

And belatedly ... happy birthday.

Reprinted with permission of The Fargo Forum.

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