| 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.
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
Bessie Wildfang, 103, left, talks with her
friend, Florence Wright, 100, during the "Celebrating Longevity"
reception at the North Dakota Capitol on Wednesday.
"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
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
"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
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
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
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,
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.