Saluting N.D.'s Centenarians: Gov. Schafer Honors 18 at 'Celebrating Longevity' Event

Cole, Janell. "Saluting N.D.'s Centenarians: Gov. Schafer Honors 18 at 'Celebrating Longevity' Event." Forum, 13 May 1999, sec. 1C.

Bessie Wildfang, 103, left, talks with her friend, Florence Wright, 100, during the "Celebrating Longevity" reception at the North Dakota Capitol on Wednesday.
BISMARCK, N.D. -- Martha Rockneberg, 100, Finley moved to North Dakota from Norway when she was 17 and has lived in the state ever since, except for a year when she lived with a son in Arkansas after her husband died.

"The Finley people wouldn't leave me alone, so I had to come back," she told the Steele County Press last year.

She still lives on her own in Finley and recommends people "work hard" if they want to live long.

Gov. Ed Schafer delighted in telling Rockneberg's story and those of 18 other North Dakota centenarians at a Capitol ceremony and reception Wednesday.

The "Celebrating Longevity" event was designed to honor the state's residents who have lived here all or most of the 20th century. Nearly 100 of the state's citizens were eligible for the ceremony, but most could not make the trip. The absent centenarians included 11 residents of Fargo.

Many of the guests were seated in wheelchairs for the ceremony, but there was a lot of spunk in some of them that Schafer was able to draw out as he went to each with a microphone and read their story and philosophy of life.

"And I'm a Republican, too!" said Ida Olson of Mandan, when Schafer came to her chair. "My daddy told me when I was a kid, don't ever vote for a Democrat."

Chuckling, Schafer said, "I'm glad I'm a Republican," as the crowd roared with laughter.

Hazel Patton, 100, Bismarck, called the governor "Eddie" a number of times when Schafer got to her chair.

That's how you can tell the guests from Bismarck, Schafer told the delighted audience.

At least one guest he knew personally.

Elizabeth Fischer of Bismarck, who turns 100 today, worked as a seamstress in Bismarck and used to sew shirts for Schafer when he was a boy.

"I brought along some mending," he joked with her.

The oldest guest was Frances Patzman, 109, Bismarck, who's still baking gingersnaps and once saw President Theodore Roosevelt when he stopped in Bismarck on a whistle-stop tour and ate barbecue. She was born in Germany and has lived in North Dakota 107 years. She's never owned a car and walked two miles a day until she was 100.

"How can I live as long as you?" Schafer asked her.

"I don't know," she said.

Two of the guests who walked to their chairs on their own were Vera Easton, 100, and Bessie Wildfang, 103, both of Bismarck. Seated side by side, they had a good time introducing themselves to each other and chatting before the ceremony began.

Wildfang still lives on her own.

Easton was the fashion plate of the day, outfitted in a chic red dress, red tights and red dress pumps.

Her words of wisdom: "Be not responsible for the whole world. It will all go on if you are not there."

Three of the 19 honorees were men and two still have a full head of hair.

H.A. Hoffman, Ashley, advised that the secret to a long life is, "Take one breath after another," but he also said he's been a vegetarian most of his life. He will turn 100 in two weeks.

Schafer said he was impressed by the elders' common sense advice and their appreciation for simple, good and important things.

Much of the advice included living a clean life, do right and being religious.

Harry Pochant, 101, Underwood, said, "Keep your nose out of other people's business and you'll live to a ripe old age."

The list of potential guests and the ceremony were put together over several months with the help of Schafer's staff, the Governor's Commission on Aging, Indian Affairs Commission, the Aging Services division of the Department of Human Services, the North Dakota Long Term Care Association and the Green Thumb program.

The governor also sought eligible centenarians through newspaper publicity.

His press secretary, Julie Liffrig, said information and pictures of all 95 of the centenarians will be printed into a booklet. Any eligible centenarians who were missed during the past months' search can still be included if someone contacts the governor's office, she said.

Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Fargo, North Dakota.

In the above newspaper article, the name of Elizabeth Fischer of Bismarck, North Dakota, is mentioned. An oral history interview of Elizabeth Mastel Fischer was completed by Michael M. Miller in December 1993. Elizabeth was born in 1899 at Strasburg, Emmons County, North Dakota. Her parents were born in the Catholic Kutschurgan German villages of South Russia today located near Odessa, Ukraine.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller