COVER STORY: What one woman has experienced in the past 106 years

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Pictured from left to right: Viola Van Leer and Marvin Van Leer
In 1905, the average worker made only 12 dollars a week, a gallon of milk cost less than 30 cents, and a 12 day cruise was just 60 dollars.  It was not until the 1920’s before most people had electricity, particularly those who lived in rural areas.

While I was covering the 5K run several weeks ago, I met 74 year-old Marvin Van Leer participating in the event.  As if watching someone who is 74 years old run 3.1 miles was not enough, his 106 year-old mother, Viola Van Leer, was there watching her son run.
Pictured to the right: Marvin Van Leer crossing the finish line.

Viola (Doerr) Van Leer was born June, 30 1905, to parents Henry and Ida (Kriege) Doerr.  In 1926, she was married to Walter A. Van Leer.  In her lifetime, our country has gone through more change compared to any other time frame since the signing of The Declaration of Independence.  Speaking with Viola Van Leer was more than a privilege; it was a true honor to speak with someone who had lived through World War II, the great depression, and countless other historical events that have occurred in our country’s history.

Viola Van Leer has lived in the Union, Mo area her entire life.  I asked her what the biggest change for her in the past 106 years was, she said, “When we got electricity it completely changed the way we lived.  There was so much we could do with electricity…it is like, I don’t know how to explain it to you, how it feels when you can turn on a light.  Instead of carrying food down to the cellar, we put everything in our ice box.”  She also spoke about how people have changed since she was younger.  “I was at a wedding reception not that long ago, and was shocked at how people dance these days.  I had never seen anything so crazy in my life.”

I asked Mrs. Van Leer if there was any advice she could give that has kept her going for 106 years, her answer was very simple, “get plenty of rest and keep your mind active”.

The conversation we had is one I will never forget.  It is not everyday you meet someone who has experienced and seen so many changes.  It really puts everything in perspective, how lucky we are to have the luxuries we are blessed with everyday.

How would you change your ways if you didn't have electricity for the first twenty years of your life?  What would you do if the next time you went to turn on a light and nothing happened?