Inseparable After 76 Years: Holzers Celebrate Anniversary

Wald, Jessica. "Inseparable After 76 Years: Holzers Celebrate Anniversary." Napoleon Homestead, 23 March 2011, 1 & 8.

Joseph Holzer passed away 25 March 2011.
Joseph Holzer Obituary

It was 76 years ago; the “dirty thirty’s”, no electricity, telephone or running water in houses. But, one thing was for sure, Joe Holzer and Katharina (Geffre) were inseparable. They became Mr. and Mrs. Holzer on February 5, 1935. “Joe was our family’s hired man. That’s where I fell in love. He was always there and I liked him,” said Katharina (94). “I knew right away,” Joe (98) said with a smile. “He said he loved me the first time he saw me,” and with a twinkle in her eye, Katharina looked at Joe and said, “I know he still does.”

After they were married, Joe and Katharina lived in Strasburg, then moved to a farm south of Hague, where they farmed and milked cows by hand. In 1948 they moved to a farm north of Wishek and continued to farm, milk cows, harvest hay with horses and make thousands of square bales.

The Holzers had 18 children (10 boys, 8 girls), of which 15 are still living. Joseph was the first born, but died only four months later. Then came Eugene, August (died in ‘99 from cancer), Aloys, Betty (Hilzendeger), Rose (Feist), Roy, Donald, Angeline (died at six months old), Darlene (Piatz), Pat, Larry, Edward, Kathleen (Buck), John, Maggie (Schroeder), Helen (Crowe) and Barbara (Keller). Each child, except three, was born at home. They were born one year and a few days apart, with the current oldest, Eugene at age 75 and youngest, Barbara at age 54. Twelve of the children are located in Bismarck, one in Napoleon (Betty Hilzendeger) and the rest live in other parts of the country, Michigan and Nebraska. Joe and Katharina have 75 grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.

As the Holzer family grew, Joe and Katharina said they were very poor and life was hard. Their house was small, with three floors and only three bedrooms. The kids would sleep three on the head end of the bed and two on the foot end, with the Holzers giving up their bed much of the time and sleeping on the floor. Betty (Mrs. Ray, Napoleon) recalled her parents’

house to have a small bedroom-sized kitchen, a huge furnace they would burn things in to keep lit, and only six beds to sleep. She said it was always very clean and “spotless”. “I liked the clean house,” said Katharina.

Holzer’s granddaughter and Betty’s daughter, Roberta Johs (Napoleon), recalls getting together at her grandparent’s house with all the kids and most of the grandkids. “There were lots of blankets and you would try and find a place to sleep anywhere that was open on the floor.” Roberta also remembers her grandma waking up early to make a big breakfast for the family. Along with fresh cream, sausage, eggs and toast, Katharina would make farinas (a hot cereal). “She would make them with a huge kettle,” said Roberta as she gestured a big round kettle with her arms.

Holzers said many common household tasks took much longer than they do now. For bathing, a barrel was filled with water, which was hauled in cream cans and pulled by sleds. “One pushed in the back and one pulled,” said Betty. In the summer, the barrel of water was heated by the sun and in the winter the water was heated by stove.

Katharina said laundry was another chore that took a long time. Clothes were washed by hand on a wash board, then put through a ringer, which squeezed the water out, then were hung out to dry, and finally ironed.

“Everything was ironed; clothes, bedding and handkerchiefs,” said Katharina. Joe said he thought most of the stuff ironed was a waste of time.

Besides farming and milking cows, Holzers also raised chickens and other animals to butcher for meat. Betty and Roberta recalled many times of butchering chickens, but both of them agreed they wouldn’t want to butcher them anymore. “That’s what they’re for,” grinned Katharina.

Betty said the family never had to buy milk, cream or eggs, as they used the farm fresh products and her mom would cook and bake a lot. She said 12 loaves of homemade bread were made every other day for the big family.

Roberta and Betty reminisced about the baked goods Katharina would make, such as homemade bread and choke cherry jelly. “The neighbors always came over and had bread, choke cherry jelly and cream. They still say that to me,” said Katharina.

As there were no TV’s or technology based toys while growing up, Betty said her brothers and sisters would entertain themselves by playing games such as checkers and marbles. She explained the marble game, around the world (wahoo) to be their favorite and said the board for the game was made out of the top of a school desk. Betty said when the family did purchase a TV after many years, it was hardly ever turned on as they would find many other things to do.

The Holzers said many changes have occurred over the years. Joe recalled one transformation being milk machines replacing milking cows by hand.

“That was a lot of difference. It was good and the cows stood so still until they were done.” Other changes include running water in the house, washing machines, using a telephone and electricity. “That was the best thing in the world,” said Joe.”

The Holzers celebrated their 76th wedding anniversary and Joe’s 98th birthday in February with all their children and most of their family at the Wishek home for the aged. Katharina said it was “very enjoyable.”

As Joe and Katharina are said to be one of the longest married couples in the state, they said it comes with no easy task. Roberta said she noticed as the years went by, her grandparents seemed to grow even closer. “We had our ups and downs,” said Katharina. Getting the work done and financials were the hardest challenge, but “having each other and our kids was the best.”

Joe and Katharina Holzer celebrated their 76th wedding anniversary in February.
This is Joe and Katharina Holzer’s engagement photo before they were married in February of 1935.
The Joe and Katharina Holzer family: back (l-r): Larry, Edward, John, Pat, Roy, Barbara (Keller), Donald, Betty (Hilzendeger), August (deceased), Kathlene (Buck), Aloys and Eugene. Front: Darlene (Piatz), Helen (Crowe), Katharina (Geffre), Joe, Rose (Feist) and Maggie (Schroeder).


Reprinted with permission from The Napoleon Homestead.

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