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Family fills Dorathea Limke's life

For Dorathea Limke, who will turn 100 years old on July 3rd, the best things in her life are her family members, and she’s quick to rattle off the numbers in each generation.

6/24/09 (Wed)


By Caroline Downs
For Dorathea Limke, who will turn 100 years old on July 3rd, the best things in her life are her family members, and she’s quick to rattle off the numbers in each generation.
“There are five children,” she said, “23 grandchildren, 63 great-grandchildren, and 12 great-great-grandchildren.”
She paused as her son LeRoy questioned the 12 great-great-grandchildren. “I’m sure there’s 12,” she responded, “and there’s some more coming.”
Dorathea ought to know. She sees most of her family daily, with photos from five generations arranged in a bright collage beneath a heavy clear, plastic tablecloth that covers her dining room table. Graduation announcements, engagement photos, baby pictures, candid shots from family gatherings, vacation snaps, school photos--they all have their place on Dorathea’s table, and she knows just where to find each sister, grandson or great-granddaughter pictured.
“They’re very important to me, my family,” she said, as her hands lay across the tabletop, touching her legacy.
The pictures do get changed as new ones arrive, and Dorathea admitted she doesn’t file the old ones in photo albums very carefully anymore. “I just put them in a box now,” she said, adding that the work of keeping albums was too much for her these days.
The oldest of six children
Dorathea was born July 3, 1909, to Herman and Theresia Koetter who farmed southwest of Lansford. She was the oldest of six children, with three sisters and two brothers, but she lived three years as an only child until her first brother was born.
“The rest of them were so much younger,” she said of her siblings. “I remember at home I used to sit by the mailbox and watch to see if Mrs. Johnson [a local midwife] was going to bring us a baby!”
Dorathea laughed at the memory. “She drove a buggy and two little gray ponies,” she recalled. “I wanted her, really bad, to stop but she never did!”
Dorathea helped raise the younger children and attended country school through eighth grade. “Then I stayed home and helped on the farm,” she said. She also worked for other farm women in the area, accepting wages for housework and cooking. “I probably spent the money on clothes,” she said. “Things weren’t very exciting in those days.”
On June 23, 1931, Dorathea married Charley Limke, who also farmed in the Lansford area. “I knew him all my life,” she said, with a shrug and a smile. The couple spent the next 59 years together.
The Limkes started farming near Lansford, then moved to the Donnybrook area in the fall of 1938, where they joined St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Donnybrook, which Dorathea still keeps her membership today. “We farmed [near Donnybrook] for a few years, then moved to the Carpio area,” she said. “We lived south of Carpio first, for five or six years, then moved up here.”
The “up here” refers to Dorathea’s longtime home north of Carpio one mile on Highway 28, where the farm house and buildings sit atop a hill overlooking the Des Lacs River valley. “The roads were so bad in those days,” she explained, “so we moved up here so the children could go to school at Carpio.” Those children include Leona Knower, now of Minneapolis, Betty Goettle, who divides her time between Donnybrook and Idaho, the late Larry Limke, LeRoy Limke of Carpio, and Ardell Skaufel, now of Burnsville, MN.
Dorathea concentrated on raising her family and helping on the farm, but in 1959 she became a business owner in Carpio when her husband purchased what became known as Limke’s Bar.
“Charley wanted the bar,” she said, adding that he continued working on the farm. “Both the boys farmed with Charley then.”
Dorathea was initially resistant to the idea of tending bar, and LeRoy confirmed that his mother spent many, many hours there, but the business did well.
“I worked all day and all night there,” Dorathea said. “The people were so nice to me, and you’d get to know a lot of people.” She couldn’t recall any problems with the business, other than the occasional robbery, including one instance where the theft took place in broad daylight.
She operated the business until 1974. Looking over at LeRoy, she said, “He and his dad decided it was enough of that stuff, but I really missed it.”
Her focus changed at age 65, but Dorathea did not consider herself retired. She took up crocheting and created several afghans for her children and grandchildren. She spent hours on the mower around the farmstead and raised a noteworthy garden. “I worked outside more than inside,” she said. “You’ve gotta do that when the sun shines, and it was work that had to be done.”
She paused and shook her head slightly. “Retired is just a word,” she said.
Many years of ballgames
When she looks back at her life, Dorathea remembers much of the work and service she provided for her family, including milking cows day in and day out. “You have to be there,” she said. “I’d sell the cream, so the kids could get some spending money.” However, she did indulge in one passion outside the home--high school basketball. “I never missed a ball game, for [my children] and the grandchildren, too,” she said.
She was an avid fan of the Carpio Cardinals and followed the team to games in Donnybrook, Coteau, Tolley, Glenburn, Lansford, Berthold and Des Lacs. “Every little town had a team,” she said. “Now, they have to travel so far.”
She scrutinized the play and recorded the game’s stats each and every night. “I had my book where I kept track of who made a basket and who missed it,” she said, adding that she gave those programs to her kids after the games so they could see how they had performed. Even after several decades, Dorathea recalled the consistent Tuesday and Thursday game schedules.
She followed girls basketball, too, when two of her daughters played. The youngest daughter chose cheerleading instead, supporting the Cardinals from the sidelines.
Changing times
Dorathea embraced several changes through the years, and these days she appreciates her microwave and new television. “Computers, I like to piddle with them, too,” she said.
She marvels at the transitions she’s seen in agriculture, however. “The implements, oh my,” she said. “Those big tractors and the cultivating and seeding and stuff they do. The combining.”
She shook her head and continued, “When I think about that now, I think about our dad. He used to farm with horses and walk behind the drag all day. He didn’t want to ride because it would be too heavy for the horses. Nothing is like it used to be when [Charley] and I were out here, the machinery and stuff that we had.”
Dorathea and Charley grew wheat, rye, oats, barley and flax in their farming days, and raised dairy cattle until the couple purchased the bar. Son LeRoy added canola and peas to the mix.
Dorathea recalled a comment made recently by her sister Celia. “‘I wonder what Dad would say if he could come back,’” Dorathea said. “‘He just wouldn’t believe it.’”
Even with all the improvements in equipment and machinery, Dorathea sees her son and grandsons working hard at farming. “It’s the hours,” she said. “The work isn’t so hard. It’s the hours they put in. I feel so sorry for them.”
Back to living in her farm home after life in the city
At nearly 100 years of age, Dorathea’s daily routine has changed a bit, but her affection for her family and interest in events around her remain consistent. She shakes off any notion of sitting around. “They talk about being bored,” she said, then shook her head in disgust. “There’s always puzzles to do, reading to do, cards to play.”
Dorathea is a regular reader of The Kenmare News, the Renville County Farmer and the Minot Daily News. Son LeRoy and grandson Mike Limke verified that Dorathea takes her news reading seriously and stays current on activities and situations in the area.
 “I go out some,” she said, adding that she quit driving at age 91. She now relies on LeRoy, his wife, or one of the grandsons or their wives to act as her chauffeur. “I go to the doctor, over to LeRoy’s, to the grandchildren’s birthday parties. I’m as busy as I want to be, and when I don’t want to be busy, I take a nap.”
She paused and laughed again. “That’s about every afternoon!”
Dorathea lived in Minot for 15 years following Charley’s death on December 26th, 1990. She moved to the city in 1992 because she wanted a change, but returned to her farm home on April 19, 2007.
“[Grandson] Brad kept bugging me and bugging me to come out,” she said.
Brad Limke and his family have lived in Dorathea and Charley’s old farmhouse for a number of years before building a home for themselves there a couple of years ago. Dorathea returned to her own house then.
She rarely prepares meals for herself these days, with food shared from her daughter- and granddaughters-in-law. “The stuff they can’t feed the cat, they bring to me,” she said, repeating a family joke. “All I have to do is put it in a microwave.”
She started drinking tea in recent years, but she still brews coffee to share with guests. She visits the doctor for fairly routine checkups and, according to LeRoy and Mike, doesn’t really suffer from any major health problems. “The doctor told her, ‘You’re in good health for your age,’” LeRoy said, then chuckled. “I asked him, ‘How many people her age have you treated?’”
“He’s the one who helped me get to this age,” Dorathea added.
She doesn’t necessarily recommend living a hundred years as a goal. “Long life? I wouldn’t suggest it,” she said. “It isn’t just to sit there and talk.”
However, living those ten decades has allowed Dorathea to establish and maintain strong family ties, and those connections remain firm to this day. “Oh, my family, they’re all just great,” she said, adding that her grandchildren and great-grandchildren live across the country from North Carolina to Texas, Idaho, New Mexico and Arizona. “Most of them, the children and grandchildren, call me every week.”
She has the opportunity to follow some of her great-grandchildren closely, with Mike’s kids Jacob, Megan and Wyatt, and Brad’s kids Bethany, Cassidy, Jericho and Kennedy living nearby and attending school in Berthold. When far-flung family members return to North Dakota for weddings and graduations, they make certain to stop and visit Dorathea.
That’s just the way Dorathea likes it, taking time to catch up on the latest news from each generation as they’re seated around the dining room table, featuring their own photos, in her beloved farmhouse. “I’m afraid I’m imposing too much on them,” she said, “but I plan to stay out here as long as I can, as long as they’ll have me here.”
Birthday party on July 3rd
Dorathea’s family will gather in celebration of her 100th birthday on July 3, 2009, and they invite friends to join them for an open house in Dorathea’s honor from 2 to 4 pm that day at the Limke Farm, one mile north of Carpio on Highway 28. Cards can also be mailed to Dorathea Limke, 7207 Hwy 28, Carpio, ND 58725-9504.