One of SD’s oldest women reflects on her 106 yearsAnn (Zoss) Roberts was born Sept. 29, 1906, in rural Barnsville, Minn.
By: Candy DenOuden, The Daily Republic
WOONSOCKET — Oatmeal really does stick with a person.
That’s one of the things 106-year-old Ann Roberts remembers clearly from her childhood on a South Dakota farm. She had oatmeal a few too many times.
“After I left home at 16, I never touched oatmeal,” Ann said, her face still showing distaste for the food.
Ann (Zoss) Roberts was born Sept. 29, 1906, in rural Barnsville, Minn. LuAnn Severson, Century Club coordinator for the South Dakota Health Care Association, estimates Roberts is somewhere among the 10 oldest living South Dakotans.
It’s unknown exactly where Roberts ranks, because nobody has registered her with the club. The oldest living South Dakotan registered with the club is Dorothy Antritter, 108, of Watertown.
Roberts left Minnesota when she was still a baby, when her family came to South Dakota.
Though her hearing has faded and some of the details of her early life are a little fuzzy, Ann remembers, in addition to oatmeal, growing up on a farm, the middle of 14 children.
“It was almost 100 years ago,” she said with a smile. “Things are so different than when I was young.”
She also remembers that the farmhouse the family first rented near Letcher had bedbugs.
“It was terrible,” she said, shuddering at the memory.
Roberts said her dad would go to town on Saturday, to find out who had been elected president on Tuesday.
“That’s how fast the news traveled,” Ann said. “You thought nothing of it.”
Eventually, she said her family was able to buy a quarter of land where her dad built a house. That’s where she grew up, and that’s where she remembers playing with her siblings, her brothers in particular.
“If they picked up a snake, I picked up a snake,” she said.
But, Ann didn’t stay on the farm for long.
She went to “normal school” for six weeks and got a second-grade teaching certificate. That enabled her to teach at country schools, which she started doing at 17 — barely older than some of her students.
“The oldest students were 16,” she said. “That was a very interesting period. … You were kind of friends with the students.”
She described the summers as a time she “could get a lot of work done,” and soon she upgraded to a first-grade teaching certificate. That meant more money, and more mobility for school choices.
“It was really high up on the hog,” Ann said.
It was teaching that got Ann started in her travels, to schools in Montana, Wisconsin, and then a private school in Hawaii.
“It was really a joyful job,” she said.
From Hawaii, Ann decided she’d like to go to Japan. A friend helped her get a job in Tokyo, at an Army education center for GIs who hadn’t finished their high school education. Ann taught there for three years, before going to Korea. Even though Ann said she liked Japan, the choice to relocate to Korea was a simple one.
“I would get more money in Korea,” she said. She was in Korea for five years, from 1949 to 1954, as education director at an air base. “I was the only woman over there,” Ann said. It was very different than the Japanese culture, but she said it was probably her favorite place she’s lived. “They were happy-go-lucky people,” she said.
It wasn’t always happy, though. She recalls the one time she cried, and one of the officers slapped her.
“He said, ‘this is war, quit that blubbering out,’ ” Ann remembers.
Living conditions were less than ideal, too, she said. Baths were a luxury reserved for once a week; otherwise, she said, she washed in the sink.
Despite the challenges, Ann said it was hard for her to leave.
“You felt you were doing a lot of good, so that made it easy,” Ann said. “You felt so useful when you were there.”
After returning to the United States, Ann didn’t slow down. She worked in a defense plant in Seattle with her sister and met her future husband on a golf course in Los Angeles. They got married in Las Vegas. Though she remembers the highlights of her eventful life, some of the details and the order of events have blurred.
“It’s so long ago,” she said. “There was so much excitement in my life.”
That’s not to say Ann has lost her wits, by any means.
“That’s a state secret,” Ann quipped when asked how old she was when she got married. Ann still jokes and teases, and makes her friends, family and the staff at Prairie View Care Center in Woonsocket laugh. She moved back to South Dakota in April, then into Prairie View in August. She likes being back in South Dakota, close to family.
“Naturally, a lot of my relatives are here,” Ann said. “I had no children, so the nieces and nephews mean a lot to me.” And, after such a busy life, traveling the world and teaching others, Ann jokingly called “rest” one of her new favorite hobbies.
“After all, I am 106,” she said.