Local centenarian has enjoyed a productive life

Gladys Janzen enjoys her 100th birthday party with Ann Janzen, her grand-daughter-in-law, and her son, Ralph Janzen. The Salem Home resident told those present that hard work is a key to living a long life.

Ask recent centenarian Gladys Janzen what the secret is to a long life, she?s fairly quick to answer: Stay busy with work.

The Salem Home resident, who returned 100 years old Aug. 17 and celebrated the accomplishment with family, friends and fellow Salem residents Aug. 25, learned to work early in life.

Janzen still recalls shocking oats and wheat in the summer sun as a youngster. As a young adult, she cleaned houses and worked as a waitress when she and her family moved to town.

At age 80, Janzen was caught on the roof of her house by family members as she was attempting some tar repairs. They quickly put an end to that chore.

?You know, I can never think of worrying because of having a lot of hard work,? she recalled in a recent interview. ?We raised chickens and I took care of them. When you?d get a bucket full of eggs, that was great.?

Most of her most vivid memories these days are rooted in her childhood.

She was born Gladys Esther Leppke on Aug. 17, 1915, to Henry and Anna Leppke on the family farm five miles south of Marion and one-quarter mile west.

The first school she attended was Dickinson No. 16 country school, which was about 11?4 miles from her home.

Janzen said her family often conversed in Low German, which gave her problems with her English classes in school.

During Janzen?s later years of elementary school and early years of high school, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. Janzen missed her last year of grade school, but was able to start high school.

She remembered how she and her brother, Elmer, met with neighbor boys and they would all travel to Marion to attend high school.

?I would drive with the Hett boys?Russell and Ron, and Earl McGinness,? she said. ?We all sat in the back seat.?

With one year left before graduation, Janzen left school to help her mother, who died at age 47. Her father later remarried.

?You know how it is, you always think a step-mother doesn?t take your mother?s place, but it isn?t right to think that way,? she said. ?I never did think that way. She could cook, and I liked to eat. I was a great eater.?

Even though Janzen wanted to earn a high school diploma, life kept getting in the way.

Work, marriage and a variety of other circumstances kept her from completing that goal in the ensuing years?until 2013, when she received her honorary Marion High School diploma at age 98.

?Oh, I want to show everybody this (diploma),? she told the Free Press at the time. ?I would have gone back, but at 19 I was too old already and I had to take care of my family.?Gladys Janzen receives a hug from Chris Sprowls, president of the Marion-Florence school board at the time the 98-year-old Janzen was awarded an honorary diploma from USD 408 in August 2013.

Janzen didn?t even begin attending school until she was 9 years old because she was caring for Elmer, 2, and a newborn sister, Annie. She also had two older sisters, Velma and Lillian.

Janzen said she developed a particularly close connection with Elmer.

?Wherever I went, he went, and where he went I went,? she said. ?We were big pals. We?d go fishing?oh, we did a lot of fishing. We talked about that last summer when we were together. He said, ?I have never done fishing like I did when we were together.??

After Gladys was married to Irvin Janzen, the lived on a farm north of Marion Reservoir, then moved to Hillsboro in 1948, where she worked as a waitress, at the local cleaners for 17 years and cleaned houses for more than for 20 years.

For a time, she also cleaned the Hills?boro United Methodist Church, which the family attended regularly. Family members say Gladys never missed Sunday school or church until recent years.

In her spare time, Janzen enjoyed ?growing anything from seeds,? especially flowers around her lily pond. The family had a cabin at the lake and used it almost every weekend for fishing.

The Janzens had one son, Ralph. Gladys said Ralph, known as a fix-it whiz around Hillsboro, is a lot like his father was.

?His dad worked in all kinds of trades,? she said. ?When REA came in, he went and started wiring. He saw the first guy wire, and after that he did his own wiring. Our son is like that.?

Free Press writer Patty Decker contributed to this article.

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