- Associated Press - Monday, December 15, 2014

SPEARFISH, S.D. (AP) - Bernice Dobesh never gave much thought to how old she would like to live until her doctor asked her that very question.

“That stumped me for a while,” Dobesh recalled. “I said ‘I wouldn’t mind being 100 if I still have all my facilities about me.’”

And on Nov. 29, she celebrated her 100th birthday.

She was born on Nov. 29, 1914, in a farmhouse near Springfield to Frank and Thula Swallom, the Black Hills Pioneer (https://bit.ly/12NPxge ) reported.

She lived on the family farm with her parents and brother Maurice and sister Marjorie where they raised oats and corn.

“I lived about 80 rods from a schoolhouse, so I walked to school,” she recalled. Eighty rods is approximately a quarter mile. “Every few miles there was another schoolhouse, so none of us had very far to go.”

The little one-room country school had 10 to 15 students from first through eighth grade inside.

She headed to Springfield for high school and graduated in 1932. She then attended college in Springfield for a year and obtained a teaching certificate.

“Then I taught at the school where I had gone to school for two years,” Dobesh said.

Some of her former classmates were now her students.

“The teacher had to teach all grades, but a lot of times there would be a grade missing,” she said. “Went to school the day after Labor Day and we got out right around the first of May. We didn’t have a lot of vacations like they do now.”

In 1935 she married George Dobesh whom she met at church in Tyndall.

“His sister and I were put on a committee at church and that is how I met him,” she said. “His father died that year, so we lived with his mother for a year on their farm in Tyndall. Then we moved to Springfield and rented a farm.”

It was at the new farm that she had three children, two girls and a boy. The eldest, Janet, died from cancer in 1981. Frank now lives on a ranch outside of Belle Fourche and Barbara lives in in Spearfish.

Dobesh and her family, like her parents, raised oats and corn as well as some chickens and cows.

“Everyone had a few cows because you had to have your own milk. You couldn’t just go to town like you can now,” she said.

The family moved to the Black Hills in 1940 or 1941. Her parents lived in the Hills and George worked at a Civilian Conservation Corps near Custer previously and enjoyed the area.

Bernice stayed at home with the kids and George worked various jobs throughout the years until they moved to the Harry Blair ranch in 1949.

“That’s where we lived the longest,” she said.

After another move they finally settled in Spearfish around 1960 on Seventh Street.

She began to work at Peterson’s Greenhouse in Belle Fourche.

“He hired me for two days. Then he hired me for a week. I was there for years,” she said. “Then I decided I’d make my own greenhouse in Spearfish.”

Her greenhouse business was unintended. The family now lived on about 20 acres off of Upper Valley and she wanted a small greenhouse to raise vegetables.

People kept stopping by to try to buy tomato plants. She wouldn’t sell any.

Finally she began her business selling vegetables from tomatoes to peppers and flowers from geraniums to petunias and lots of bedding plants.

Gardening is something she still enjoys and her apartment at the Ponderosa Apartments has many plants she started.

The couple also worked for the dairy association collecting milk from individual cows at about 20 different dairies from the Hills to Kadoka.

“Some of those dairies had 200 milk cows,” she said.

The two took milk samples from each cow multiple times a day and shipped them to a college in Ames, Iowa, where the milk was analyzed for quality and how good of producers the cows were.

They worked for the dairy association for nine years.

As the years went by they sold off different acreages off their land.

“Finally George said, ‘Let’s sell the house.’ He was getting tired of mowing the lawn. That’s one thing I never did, mow the lawn.”

In 1980 they retired and moved to the Willow Apartments. George passed in 1992 and Bernice moved to her current apartment in 1999.

“Been here ever since,” she said.

When asked what she attributes her long life to she said, “I’ve had so many people ask me that question. I tell them, ‘Three meals a day.’”

And there is one meal more important than others.

“Now it’s noon, but when I had kids in school we had our big meal at night,” she said. “My son said, ‘We live on a ranch. Why can’t we have hamburgers for breakfast? We got our own meat.’ So I started making hamburgers for them.”

And as expected Dobesh as seen a lot of change in her lifetime.

“I don’t know for sure if it’s good or not,” she said.

“They have this housing act where they can’t tell people where I live. You have to call me. But yet you can take that darn computer and find out if I’m alive or dead.

I’m not really sure if that’s good or not,” she said.

Conversely, electricity has been a good change.

“I still remember my first electric fridge,” she said. It wasn’t until around 1950 that she had electricity in her home.

She and George were involved with getting the Spearfish Senior Citizen Center opened, she was a volunteer with the Chamber of Commerce, her church, Meals on Wheels and even served in the kitchen at the now Tree House Café.

Dobesh has nine grandchildren, nine great-great-grandchildren, “and I can’t even count how many great-grandchildren I have.”

Later she said there were about 20 grandchildren.

Dobesh remains active. She has two craft projects going, one on either side of her chair.

She has made more than 1,000 large doilies and countless smaller ones. Wheel of Fortune and the news is about all the TV she watches. She plays cards three nights a week and attends sewing club twice a week and bingo once a week.

The Century Club also honored her for her 100-year milestone.

Dolly Keehn, of Flandreau, is believed to be the oldest South Dakotan. She was born on March 11, 1905.

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