Centenarian celebrates 100th birthday at family bash

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What better way to celebrate reaching one’s 100th year than to get together with loved ones? The George Woodrow Abenroth clan partied with the centenarian during the summer, said daughter-in-law Rebecca Abenroth.

“Family came from Georgia, Montana, Arizona, Maine, Oregon and all corners of Washington. We had a weekend-long family reunion at Pioneer Park and at our home. About 90 family members were there,” she said.

The third of eight children, George came into the world on Oct. 16, 1913, born in Plentywood, Mont., to George Sr. and Hilda Greco Abenroth. Their sod prairie house, his birthplace, was 20 miles from North Dakota and Saskatchewan, Canada.

“It’s interesting to us that twice the family thought George was too frail to live. He was a tiny, premature baby and keeping a tiny baby alive through the winter in a sod house in the prairie is no easy task,” Rebecca said.

“His mother always talked about keeping him alive in the warming oven in a shoe box — who knows if that was literally true, but he remembers her great love in saving him. Later, his children would lie awake through the night hearing him struggle for breath when his asthma was so bad that they thought he could not survive ­— and he has lived to 100 with almost no visits to a doctor in his last 60 years!”

Perhaps his hardiness comes from immigrant stock through his German-Polish and Swedish grandparents. Both his parents took out homestead claims, but they settled on Hilda’s place as it was capable of sustaining crops.

Born at Neu Lobitz, Prussia, George Sr. was 10 when he came to the U.S. In adulthood he left the family lumber business in Michigan and sought his fortune farther west in the agriculture of the Dakotas and Montana where he met Hilda. They and their first three children lived in the homestead shack they built. In 1915, they constructed a two-story farmhouse, George Jr.’s son and Rebecca’s husband Paul Abenroth noted in a sketch about his father.

“The family built a gorgeous Sears, Roebuck & Co. home on their land. One of George’s earliest memories was of being awakened by his hysterical mother because he’d curled up to sleep in the wagon tracks in front of the home while it was being built, and the worker’s wagons were starting to leave. That home still stands, but has been abandoned for years. The whole family dreams of restoring it — but on those desolate Montana prairies, who could live in it?,” Rebecca said.

The Abenroth family grew wheat, oats, corn and hay, farming first with horses and later with tractors. They raised cattle, pigs and chickens, cultivated a large garden and hauled coal to heat the house through long, cold prairie winters.

The Abenroth siblings walked the mile to a one-room country school and George attended a couple years of high school in the nearby small town of Outlook, but didn’t finish.

In 1938 he married local girl Henrietta Goetzinger and for 10 years, until fall 1948, they lived and farmed on several rented farms near Plentywood, including the Shippe Canyon and Godfrey, Midby and Ross places.

By the time they were farming the Ross place 20 miles from town there were four children, Claude, Paul, Beulah and Bonnie. Without a usable well during those three years, they hauled water half a mile from a neighboring place.

Given those circumstances the family wintered near Mount Vernon, Wash., where Henrietta’s parents and older brother, Harold and older sister Stella had relocated with their spouses and families.

“The soil and climate (in Montana) just don’t support family farms, and they, along with many of their relatives, moved west. They first lived in Sedro Woolley, Wash., but George’s asthma was so bad they thought he might die, so they looked around Eastern Washington and found Walla Walla. They saw the familiar wheat fields — but with far greater stands of wheat than they were used to — and knew they had found their place,” Paul said.

Between 1948 when they relocated to the Mount Vernon area and 1955 when they moved to Walla Walla they had two more children, Loren and Lane.

At Walla Walla George first worked for Home Furniture. For three years he operated George’s Conoco, a nearly new service station at the corner of Second Avenue and Morton Street. For several years he was a grain inspector for the Agriculture Stabilization and Conservation Service. He later worked for Snyder-Crecelius Paper Co. until retirement in 1980. Henrietta died on Dec. 31,1975.

In 1980, at 67, George married Dorothy Strouse Bennett. After Dorothy fell and broke a hip this past summer, the couple moved from their home into assisted living in Walla Walla.

“George always enjoyed gardening and liked to recall his farming days. He had good mechanical know-how and did a good job of maintaining the various homes where the family lived. He liked to play games with his kids, including checkers and chess and most any other games,” Paul said.

George’s and Henrietta’s children and their spouses are Claude and Loren, both deceased, Paul and Rebecca and Beulah and Bruce Brewer, all of Walla Walla, Bonnie and Barry Flippo of Phoenix, and Lane and Cindi Abenroth of Redmond, Wash.; nine grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and dozens of nieces and nephews. Of George’s siblings, all but two lived well into their 90s. This past spring two brothers and a sister preceded him in death. Two sisters are living.

“George has been a very humble, quiet man, rarely venturing beyond his family and friends in his church group, which is a group of Christians who meet in homes to worship,” Rebecca said.

Etcetera appears in daily and Sunday editions. Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at annieeveland@wwub.com or 526-8313.

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