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Wilma Ruppel reflects back on century of living

Wilma celebrated her 100th birthday with a party at the Villas of Jackson and a car ride wearing her “100 and Fabulous” sash. Submitted photo

Wilma Bangert Ruppel turned 100 years old Thursday, May 4. She will be a resident at the Villas of Jackson for three years come June. The Villas held a birthday party for her last week.

Wilma enjoys living at the Villas. She likes the staff and residents. “The residents are all really nice, You get acquainted and learn about their lives. We’re one big family.”

Wilma makes an effort to get to know the residents. “I try to get acquainted with them and help them feel welcome.” Now a century old, Wilma still has a zeal for living. She participates in all of the planned activities at the Villas. “There’s always something going on,” she said.

While many of the residents head off to their rooms after dinner, Wilma prefers to socialize with a couple of other ladies, playing Chinese checkers or rummy.

“And I’m still watching the Cardinals,” she added. She has been a St. Louis Cardinals fan all her life. “We went to a lot of Cardinals games with our children,” she recalls. Now, she watches the games on TV. She laments their poor season this year, saying she doesn’t remember them ever playing as badly as they are right now. (That’s saying a lot, considering she’s 100 years old!)

Wilma was born at home, the third child of Robert and Lena Pohlman Bangert, farmers from Lixville in Bol-linger County.
“I’ve lived on a farm all my life,” Wilma said.

Her earliest memory is of her younger brother being born. She was about 3-1/2 years old when her uncle took her and her older siblings away while the baby was to be born at home. As they left, Wilma saw the doctor arrive. When her uncle brought them home, there was a new baby in the house.

Wilma told her parents she knew where babies come from. Surprised, her parents asked her where, and she told them the doctor brings babies in his little black bag. “My parents didn’t disagree,” she said.

Wilma’s youngest brother, Lonnie, was born when she was 12. Wilma thought of him as her “real live baby doll,” saying, “I took care of him more than anyone else did.” (Lonnie passed way about four weeks ago.)

Wilma was close to her older sister, Stella, and tried to keep up with her. “I tried to do everything she did,” Wilma recalled. She started school at age 5 because Stella, who was then 7, was going to school. (Stella passed away a few years ago at age 95.)

Wilma attended Tip Top School on Route K in Bollinger County, a mile from her house. “I walked to school every day,” she said.

No matter the weather — scorching sunshine, pouring rain or freezing snow — there was no school bus and her parents didn’t drive her to school.

Wilma’s parents owned a car. It was a Ford Model T that her dad had bought in 1917, six years before she was born. “I rode in it a long time,” she said. They called it a “convertible” because it had no glass in the windows; just curtains which they closed in the winter. She claimed the ride was “okay” and added, “It was better than riding in a buggy, I’m sure.”

Wilma attended Trinity Lutheran Church in Fried-heim. There she met her husband, Harlan Ruppel, who was from the Oak Ridge area. “He asked me to go out, and I decided I liked the guy,” she said.

They married in 1943 and enjoyed 59 years of marriage before Harlan passed away.

The newlyweds lived on the farm with his parents. ‘That was my home. They were really nice people, my in-laws. They were hard workers.” Her husband, too, was a hard worker, she said. “We did have a lot of work to do.”

Wilma doesn’t complain about the work she had to do. Her mother-in-law was only 14 years old when her mother had died, and she had to take care of five younger siblings. “I felt sorry for my mother-in-law. I thought she had a hard life. I’m thankful my life was not that bad.”

The farm had chickens, turkeys, pigs and cows. Every day there were eggs to gather and cows to milk. There was a vegetable garden that needed planting, weeding and picking. They canned food to feed them through the winter months. They grew almost everything they needed, and once a week they made a trip to town to purchase what they couldn’t grow. “There were no conveniences,” she added.

The fields were sown with corn or wheat. (Today, her farm mostly grows soybeans.)

At first, there was a lot of manual work using hands and small machinery. As time passed, “It changed a lot. Everything got easier,” she said.

When Wilma was a child, grain was cut using a binder that was pulled behind a team of horses. During her young married life, the binder was pulled behind a tractor. Nowadays, a monstrous combine is driven through the fields in air-conditioned comfort. Hay was once baled in small rectangular bales that had to be lifted by hand onto trucks or trailers. Now, hay is baled in large round bales and loaded by tractors onto trucks and trailers. The work became easier as the equipment got bigger—”and more expensive!” she said.

“I enjoyed living on a farm and raising kids on a farm,” Wilma said. They had three children, two boys and a girl. Their firstborn son was born on Wilma’s 21st birthday.

Her children were in 4-H as they grew up. “I did a lot of 4-H leadership,” Wilma said.

Although her children are now grown (and retired), she still owns the family farm. One of her sons takes care of it for her.

Once her children were married and gone from home, Wilma decided to do something different. She took a job as an aide at what was then called the Perry County Nursing Home in Perryville. “I liked that. There were a lot of nice people to work with.” She also got along well with the residents.

Over time, a nurse taught her what she needed to know to become a medical technician. She took a test and became certified. She thought that was a pretty good accomplishment for someone who never graduated from high school. “I didn’t go to high school. It was too far away,” she said.

Wilma said she has not traveled much. She was never overseas, but she did leave the country once to see Canada while visiting her sister in Michigan. She has been to the majestic Rocky Mountains and the rolling Smoky Mountains, and she has dipped her feet into the salty waves of the Atlantic Ocean while visiting Savannah, GA.

Wilma has done a lot of quilting, reading and puzzles all her life. Today, she still has a collection of books in her room, and she still enjoys doing crossword and Sudoku puzzles.

The view from Wilma’s window is country-like, filled with greenery. She can also see Jackson Middle School children having fun on the playground, and she enjoys watching them. Her favorite memory is being surrounded by her children as they grew up. “I like being a mother,” she said.

The world has changed a lot since her younger days. It has become more violent. “You never heard about kids getting shot,” she said.

And today, “It’s a lot harder for parents to raise their kids.” When she was raising her children, the world moved a much slower pace, she said.

Her advice to people today is, “Just trust in God. Have faith and believe.”

Gregory Dullum has worked for The Cash-Book Journal for more than 25 years. Prior to becoming the editor in May 2017, he was production manager, circulation manager and reporter. Before moving to Cape Girardeau in 1988, he was editor of the Saint Louis Park Sailor, a weekly community newspaper in suburban Minneapolis, MN. A native of Minnesota, he returned there after graduating with distinction in 1978 from Ambassador College in Pasadena, CA, with a degree in mass communications. His wife, Marie, whom he met in college, is a native of Zalma, a small town in southeast Missouri. They have two grown daughters and five grandchildren. Gregory may be reached at

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