Centenarians of Lusk
By Glenda Stoldt, Contributing Reporter
A centenarian is a person who is or lives beyond the age of 100 years. How many people in the United States are 100 years old and older? Glad you asked! Approximately 70,490 people in the U.S. are over 100 years old. The U.S. currently has the most centenarians in the world. Japan is second with approximately 44,449 centenarians.
This reporter spent considerable time trying to find out how Wyoming ranked in number of centenarians compared to the rest of the nation and failed. I did, however, find out what the percentage of people over age 85 is in Wyoming compared to the rest of the country. The 2009 U.S. Census Bureau's Geographic Comparison Table provides information on each state's percentage of population who are age 85 and older compared to the rest of the state's population. Data indicates that Wyoming is average. Here are the highest to lowest ranking states compared to Wyoming:
North Dakota: 2.5% (highest)
Iowa and Florida: 2.4% (second highest)
Alaska: .06% (lowest)
We here in Lusk are very proud to have four citizens between the ages of 95 and 103; Hester Smith, Bess Ruffing, Genevieve Swope and Bob Vollmer. I had the honor and pleasure of interviewing each of them.
Hester Smith - Age 103 (plus)
Smith was born at home on April 13, 1908, in Wilton, Wisconsin. As a child, she and her family lived with her father's parents on their farm in Ontario, Wisconsin, which is about 40 miles east of LaCrosse, Wisconsin.
Smith is always sure to add that "plus" to her age with a smile. She is self-sufficient and intelligent, with a wry sense of humor that peeks out at you through her eyes. She still cleans her own home and loves to bake.
Her earliest memory is of an incident with the farm horses. "Farm horses were a very valuable commodity back then. We didn't have tractors and such, and horses were all we had to plow the fields." On this particular day, her father had just finished hitching the horses to the plow when something spooked them and they started running amuck. Her father hollered for her and her sister to help catch the horses. Hester knew that if she and her sister tried to catch the horses that they would be trampled, so she grabbed her little sister and drug her behind a rose bush that was at the corner of the house. The horses were finally stopped and her father was able to do that day's plowing in the fields.
She also remembers how much fun she and her family had on winter outings in their horse-drawn sleigh. "Back then, my mother would heat flatirons and wrap them up in blankets to keep our feet warm."
Smith grew up in Wisconsin, where she met and married her husband, Bill Smith. Bill landed a job at the Dick Pfister Ranch in South Dakota (near Edgemont), where they moved with their son Billy in 1937. Bill's mother also worked at the Pfister Ranch as a cook.
During World War II, the Smiths moved to Casper where Bill was employed at the Henry Petz Ranch and Hester landed a job at JC Penney for the Holiday season, and then later for Montgomery Ward.
The Smiths moved to Lusk around the same time as the first Legend of Rawhide Pageant. "The entire family participated in the pageant that year. Bill was a scout, Bill Jr. was an Indian and I rode in the wagon. Bill Jr. eventually took over the job of "arrow shooter" from Mr. Windham, the original pageant arrow shooter."
Smith clearly remembers the Blizzard of '49. "That's the year we built the Town House Motel." Smith had a head for business and when they sold the motel, she started the only gift shop in town, The Branding Iron Gift Shop. After selling the gift shop she started buying property and trying her hand at painting, "To keep busy." She experimented with many different types of paint and canvas materials. Hester has a very unique style and prefers landscapes. Her paintings are true to life, detailed and beautiful. She still has her first painting, and laughs when telling about it; "It's a building, water trough and a cowboy. It's horrible!" Smith gave up painting to write four books; two are biographies on the lives of her husband and son, one is an autobiography and the other is about the Town House Motel.
Smith says that she'd live her life over again, "If I could have my husband and son back to do it with." She says she wouldn't do anything differently, "I've worked hard all my life. I've been a businesswoman, painter, writer and knitted socks, sweaters, caps - all manner of things. I've had a pretty good life, even including losing my husband and son."
When asked, Smith wouldn't offer any advice on life except to say that, "Everybody should have to do a little hard work so they understand the value of money. A little hard work never hurt anybody."
She would like to acknowledge Pastor Pflughoeft of the Lutheran church and his family, "For the wonderful things they do for me; they mow my yard and help with anything else I need." She would like to thank Gene and Carol Kupke for all of their support and help, and her daughter-in-law, Kay Smith. "Kay takes me to doctor's appointments, shopping, gets my mail and many other things." She would also like to thank Judy Redfield, "For picking up my mail when Kay isn't here to do it, and many other little things. It's important to have good friends and relatives. I have so many others to thank as well."
When asked what she owes her longevity to, Smith says, "Everybody always asks about what I eat, and I tell them homemade white bread, any kind of potatoes and chocolate ice cream."
Bess Ruffing - Age 102
Ruffing was born at home on a little farm in Maywood, Nebraska, on June 15, 1909. She grew up with an older sister. "I was a homesteader's kid and was home schooled until I was ready for High School."
Ruffing and Smith are friends, and Ruffing readily laughs about accepting the #2 spot on the "who's oldest" list. She has a beautiful smile and great sense of humor. Ruffing is an avid Bingo player and the game doesn't begin without her. Her fellow Bingo players say you can't get a thing past her.
Her earliest memory is when she got her first dog during World War I. "A neighbor was going to war and gave me his dog. His name was Teddy; he was a red Springer Spaniel. I loved that dog. He got struck by lightning and my dad had to put him down."
Ruffing moved with her family to Hat Creek when she was 5 years old. They lived in a tent until their cabin could be built. "We all had to work hard. My sister and I had to peel the logs for the cabin after mom and dad cut them down. My other job was to herd the cows. There was one old cow that I used to ride around on. One day the assessor came by and saw me riding the cow. He told my dad that he had a pony he'd be happy to give me. And that's how I got my pony; his name was Skunk." Ruffing's fondest memory is riding around on Skunk, "I was tired of riding that old cow."
She vividly remembers the old days in Lusk. "Everything about Lusk is different today. Back then we had one grocery store, where I worked just because I wanted to." She clearly remembers, "The 'yellow hotel' (a house of ill repute) that was here back then. The lady who owned it, Charlotte Shephard, was quite a businesswoman and a very nice lady. She owned a lot of property and was known to have 'educated' a couple of the boys in town. She liked me and always asked for me to wait on her at the grocery store."
When asked which invention during her lifetime affected her the most, she said, "Indoor plumbing was the best one. Our little house outdoors was mighty cold in the wintertime."
Ruffing had five children; two are still living. Her advice for parents today is, "You need to listen to your kids." Her best advice for young women today is, "Live your life the best you can."
Ruffing says she'd live life all over again, "Yes, I had a good life." And, laughed out loud when she added, "Even the homesteader's kid part." The only thing she'd do differently is, "To have the cabin built before I got here." And laughed again when she added, "Tent life in Wyoming in the middle of winter isn't good."
When asked what she'd say if she could send a message to the world, she replied, "Obey the Golden Rule; do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Ruffing believes that her purpose in life was, "Just to live it." And that her greatest accomplishment was raising her family, "The most important thing in my life was my husband and children. I was quite young when I got married. My husband was 19 and I was 20; I was an 'older woman' (she added with a big smile). I'd known him since we were in knee britches. We had a very happy life. We were poor as church mice, but we made do. We were rich in happiness."
Genevieve Swope - Age (just) 100
Swope was born on November 19, 1910, in Crawford, Nebraska. She and her family moved to Lusk when she was 6 months old. They had a homestead of 640 acres "up near the hills." "It was a rough time for my family because not many other people were there then. There were Indians around. Dad was away a lot, working, trying to make a living for his family and my mother was afraid of the Indians. I had two brothers and one sister. My sister, Francis, was born in Missouri, and my brother Claude Olen was born on the home place. I never saw my other brother John William; he died in Missouri when he was a baby.
Swope modestly insists that she's, "Just a hundred." She is intelligent, self-sufficient, on top of current events, and enjoys collecting unique salt and pepper shakers and other knick-knacks that hold special meaning to her because they were given to her by family and friends. She crochets, and loves to play Bingo, Fast Track, Cribbage and Pinochle. She plays Bingo down at The Ranger and, "wins sometimes, but not very often." She participates in pinochle marathons that go on from September to May; they have one game a month and, "No money changes hands", she says with a smile.
Her fondest memories are of school and Sundays. "We had lots of fun when we went to school. We played all kinds of games like baseball, pump-pump-pullaway, steal sticks and lots of others. We had lots of fun on Sundays too. Some of our neighbors would come over, or we would go someplace and us kids would go outside and play all day."
"I went to school at Pine Knot, which was about two and a half miles north of our place. Sometimes I walked, sometimes I rode a pony, and other times I drove a buggy. I helped my Dad in the fields; cutting hay, stacking hay and all that goes with farming. We had a hay rack we pitched hay into and hauled it to the house, and then had to pitch it off. I always had to milk the cows too. We had five or six milk cows and sold the cream. It was hard work."
She also remembers a run-in with a skunk. "One day when I went to the garden, there was a skunk there. I was curious; I wanted to see how he sprayed his scent. I hit him with a stick and found out! My mam wouldn't let me in the house. I really got sprayed with yellow stuff!"
Swope married in 1935. "I met the most honest man and married him on March 9, 1935. Of course I knew him when we were babies; we were neighbors, played together as children and practically grew up together. We had four girls; Claudetta, Dolores, June and Yvonne. They grew up to be women we could be proud of. We worked at different places; for my dad, we went to Pinedale for awhile, we worked around Lusk at different things, then we went back to the Swope place and stayed there from 1944 to 1964, when we moved up to Dad and Mam's place. We moved to Lusk in 1968 when my husband bought me a house, and I have lived here ever since." Swope loves it here in Lusk, and thinks it's a pretty good town, "I wouldn't want to live any place else. There've been a lot of changes in the world; and not all for the better."
Swope has been a teacher at the Larson and Holes, and Pine Knot schools. She's also worked in different restaurants in Lusk; including, the North Side, South Side, Line Side Inn, Coffee Cup, Ranger Coffee Shop, The Diner, and Ducks.
Although she thinks we need cars and telephones nowadays, there are no inventions created during her lifetime that have truly affected her way of life. She thinks she would have gotten along just as well without them. "If you didn't know about them, you wouldn't need them now would you?"
When asked, Swope says she wouldn't mind doing it all over again. She doesn't know what her purpose in life has been, but believes that her greatest accomplishment has been her children, "I've got pretty good girls, she says, they take care of me." And, her advice to the world - "Be good to each other."
John Robert (Bob) Vollmer - Age 95
Vollmer was born at home, here in Lusk, on March 28, 1916, at 4:00 p.m.; "Right where the telephone office is now. There wasn't a hospital back then." He had 4 sisters and 2 brothers.
His earliest memory is from around 1920 when, "The Oddfellows and Mason lodges burned down. The lodges were on the corner of Main (where that bank is now). We thought we were going to lose the whole town. We lived about a block away and my mother and I watched the buildings burn down from our front room windows."
Vollmer is an avid gardener. He and his wife have a beautiful back yard with above ground vegetable gardens that are enviable. Tulips are his passion, along with Lilies. He has a wonderful sense of humor, and is a great story-teller.
He has written his own memoirs, and includes the time he thought he was going to get an old nag to ride on. "Everybody who is raised in Wyoming loves horses and loves to ride them; except me. I like horses, but not to ride them. The first horse I ever rode was a little Shetland pony. It belonged to a girl the same age as me. That little pony was full of pep and turned mean every spring, so they would get my friend Dan and me to ride it till it settled down. He put us on the ground a few times. Years later, one spring, when I was still in high school, a couple of my friends asked me if I wanted to go on a cattle drive with them over a weekend. I told them I didn't know how to ride, and they said they'd get me an old nag that wouldn't do anything. That night at supper, I asked my dad if I could go and he told me he thought I'd like it. The next day I told my friends that I would go if I could have a nice horse to ride. Oh, they assured me they'd get an old nag for me. Well, the weekend came and we camped out on Friday night. We got up at day break and the men got up to feed us and get the horses ready. Some of those horses gave a good bucking show. Two men came over to me, pointed to one of the horses and asked me if the old nag would do for me. They gave me an old saddle that would fit me and got my pony ready. I sure hated to get on that saddle, but I did, and nothing happened. When we moved out, my pony just went right along. Dan Renieke and Woodard Millman rode along side me and asked how I was getting along with the old nag, and I said I was okay. It was a nice morning; the sun rose and it was beautiful. We rode most of the morning. My horse was real good and I didn't have to do anything except try to find a soft spot on the saddle to sit on. I was getting sore from riding. When we got to the herd, the cattle were all bunched up. It was darn good. When we were ready to head out, one of the cattle hands yelled at me, 'Bob you get out on the left flank; you'll be the furthest man out.' So, I did what he told me. My two buddies came out on the left too. They yelled, 'move them out', so I did. My seat was still sore. Everything was going just fine. I thought they'd given me an old nag so that I could just enjoy the drive. Well, I was just kind of leaning on the saddle horn when a cow took off. Boy, did I get a surprise! My horse took off like a rocket. I grabbed the horn as hard as I could. That old nag I was on knew what she was supposed to do. She cut that cow and turned her. When that cow turned again, my horse stopped on a dime and was at full speed in less than a second. The only thing wrong was she left me in mid-air. I went over the back of the saddle and my feet left the stirrups. Boy, you should have heard the laughter and the yells as soon as the other riders found out I was okay. I then realized what those two pals of mine did to me; I was riding the champion cutter horse of the world. That horse was wonderful! She left me in the air two more times. I traded horses with the other guys a few times and they got left in the air too. I really enjoyed that drive. I've never done it again."
He also recalls the first oil well that went in at Lance Creek, and how the town was back then. "Bars, hamburger shops (the XL was the biggest one), the Bungalow Hotel, the Henry Hotel, and the Silver Cliff Hotel. Main Street was just a big mud hole. It wasn't paved until the 40's. They eventually moved the Bungalow Hotel to Torrington. They built the Ranger Hotel, but never finished it until years later. Lusk was a big town back in the oil boom. There were a lot of 'tar paper' shacks and outhouses. There were so many, that they blocked off Main Street." Once indoor plumbing became popular, he and the boys in town got together one Halloween and took all the outhouses and hid them. "Halloween used to be a really big deal around here. The Marshal had a hard time keeping us boys in line. We were a lot of mischief, but the Sheriff couldn't do anything to us." He remembers during the bootleg days, "The Sheriff got a still and a whole bunch of whiskey and stored it as evidence in a cell in the jail. One night when the Sheriff was out of town, a bunch of masked men broke into the jail and stole the evidence so there wasn't ever a trial". He also remembers a woman named Anne Curry, "Who caused a lot of trouble over the whole bootlegging thing. This woman's car broke down in town one day and my dad and I fixed it for her. She gave me a big tip. Unbeknownst to her, my dad was the biggest bootlegger in the county."
Vollmer Sr. was a mechanic and owned the Vollmer Machine Shop, which is still standing, and located across from where the post office is today. He was also a gas welder and could operate a lathe. He patented the jet propulsion motor for high speed motor boats; which, when first invented, was used on log rafts. Vollmer's granddad invented the ratchet wrench. His brother still has the patent awarded to his father.
Vollmer was a Boy Scout and Boy Scout leader. He was the first Eagle Scout in Lusk. He earned the Silver Beaver Award (a significant award) and still has it, along with all of his Boy Scout badges. Vollmer is also a veteran of World War II.
He is very proud of all five of his children; Johnny, Tim (world champion discus and javelin thrower in the Olympics in Germany), Cindy, Milton and then Georgie; who died from polio at age 5. "A lot of people lost children over polio." His advice for parents today is, "Talk to the kids. Kids are a lot smarter than parents realize. Listen to your children." "If a person is raised in a peaceful household it sure makes a difference." Vollmer's advice to young men is, "Work hard and save money. And, be good to your parents."
Vollmer would love to do life over again, "I enjoy life. Family, friends, work... work don't hurt ya." When asked what he would do differently, he says, "Work better, and there's a lot of things I wouldn't do. There's a lot I wouldn't want to go through again. I'd never want to see that war again."
Vollmer says his greatest accomplishments are, "The way my family turned out. I've had a pretty damn good life. I came from a good family. One thing is for sure, I had wonderful parents and good brothers and sisters. Us kids never fought. And, I've been very lucky with the women in my life; they've all been beautiful, and I didn't ever think I'd marry a nun (his current wife, Dolores, was a nun)." They were married in St. Leo's Church on August 23, 1996.
His message to the world: "Keep cool, calm and collected. I don't understand why people see the need to argue and fight. They should just agree to disagree and keep on loving each other. You gotta give; you can't have everything your way. Give in. Try to see the other person's point of view. Forget the disagreement and keep on getting along."
Images & Attachments
|Petz, Henry (09/23/1876 - 10/14/1958)
|Ruffing, Bess (06/15/1909 - 06/16/2013)
|Swope, Genevieve (11/19/1910 - 12/16/2014)
|Smith, Hester (04/13/1908 - 11/02/2015)
|Vollmer, John (03/28/1916 - 08/11/2012)