- Associated Press - Sunday, February 1, 2015

FREMONT, Neb. (AP) - The photograph of the little girl is a treasury of memories for Eugenia Tank.

She is about 7 years old and the year is 1922.

The lace bodice of the dress was crocheted by her grandmother Gerken, a woman remembered with love, and the rest of the dress was sewn by Tank’s mother.

At the neckline is a small pin, a bluebird. Tank still wishes she knew what happened to that little pin. The girl is sedate and sure of herself, as is the woman. There is a ghost of a grin and the young face that remains in the face of the woman 93 years later.

Eugenia Tank - Gena, as she is called by those who know her - celebrated her 100th birthday recently, surrounded by many friends.

“I grew up 7 miles northwest of Fremont on a farm. We lived in a big two-story house. I had to carry drinking water from the well up the hill to the house and from the cistern to the wash house,” she told the Fremont Tribune (https://bit.ly/1HrLY2d).

The cistern captured the rain water which was soft water and would be used to wash clothing and for cleaning, but was not drinkable.

Drinking water from the well was ladled out of a bucket with a common ladle.

“We must have acquired good immune systems,” Tank said, “as we were not sick very much.”

She carried in cobs and wood for the kitchen stove and the heating stove in the dining room.

“In winter we closed off the rest of the downstairs,” she said.

There was no heat upstairs and its was frigid in the rooms where she and her two brothers had their bedrooms. There was no electricity. Her brothers and father milked the cows and they had cattle, pigs, horses and chickens.

“We had a chicken coop, but the hens would run all over the farm and I had to hunt for their eggs. They would lay them all over the barn and I had to look for those eggs. We farmed with horses until we got a McCormack tractor with steel wheels. My father would be on the binder when we harvested and I drove the tractor. I could make the corners real good, sharp,” she said.

Tank remembers her mother making butter.

“My mother made the best butter. Mother would go down to the well and get water, then wash the butter over and over with cold water until the water ran clear. She added a little salt, then took her butter and the eggs into town to sell.

“I had a grandmother Hansen who rented a big room in town from a Mrs. Rasmussen. There was everything in that room, including a kitchen. She wanted me to come into town and clean the place so I did and afterward we went to Vienna Bakery for a treat,” Tank said.

Tank’s other grandmother, Gerken, lived on West 23rd Street in the house by the trailer court.

“They had a lot of cherry trees and a big garden. She did so much sewing, needlework and canning. We spent a lot of time there. When our parents came to town we’d stay with them while they shopped. My husband and I started the trailer park,” she said.

There was the country school Tank attended until eighth grade.

“We had to walk a mile and a half every day, even in the winter,” she said. “One time it was almost a blizzard and my dad brought a horse down to get us and we walked home through the blowing snow.”

The children huddled on the lee side of the horse, away from the wind for the long, cold walk home. The school house was District 42, called Bellview.

“I had just graduated from eighth grade and on a Saturday, a tornado came through and blew the school into the basement. We drove out to see it and it was flattened. There was a little house next to it that was still standing,” she said.

Tank went into to Fremont to finish her education. Her father drove her to town daily, first to junior high, then high school until she could drive.

It was 1942 and Tank’s brother went to California to work. He lived in Whittier and worked for Carnation Ice Cream Company.

“His wife and I went out on a train,” Tank said. “It was war time and when troop trains went by, our train would move to the side so that the train could pass.

I found work at the Canon Electric Company, a defense company. We made sockets and prongs that were hooked together and used in airplanes. A friend came out and we returned to Fremont after about six months.”

She found employment “helping different people when they had babies,” then got a job at Woolworths. Employees each had their own counter and their own cash register. Her counter was “notions” which sold sewing supplies like needles, thread, trim and other sewing necessities.

Items were attached to cards with prices on them and the cards were collected at the counter, added together and the cash taken.

“I had to add them up in my head,” she said.

There was a candy counter in the center of the store with an elevator from the basement that rose through an opening in the floor to re-supply the candy. The lunch counter served many a downtown worker who came there to eat lunch.

Tank is a member of First Lutheran Church, joining when she was an adult in 1947.

When she was 31, she married Merrill Henry. Gena and Merrill had no children, but she remains close to niece, Sandy, and Goddaughter Cathy Mullen.

“Merrill was a trucker,” she said.

He worked at Hormel for a while and then trucked for various other people.

“He went to Wyoming once. He was hauling uranium,” she said.

A firm in Riverton, Wyo., hired Merrill to pick up uranium from the mines in the mountains above the town and haul it to Riverton for processing.

“We lived in Riverton on Fremont Street,” she said.

Eugenia Tank became a widow. A few years after her husband’s death, she was shopping the Safeway Store on 23rd Street.

“I knew Louie Tank before. . He’d lost his wife and Merrill was gone so when we met at the store, he said to me, ‘Do you want to go for a ride or something?’ I said, ‘Well, that’d be all right.’”

They dated for a year, before marrying. It was almost three years before he died.

Her oldest brother died at age 95, her younger brother, earlier. None of the siblings had children, but Eugenia Tank is surrounded by step-children, nieces and grands of all kinds.

She can give the exact date each picture was taken that hangs in a display on her door. She remembers birthdays with accuracy. Health concerns have made it necessary for her to be a nursing home resident, but her eyes shine with good humor and love.


Information from: Fremont Tribune, https://www.fremontneb.com

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