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A special day for Dolly

Matilda Loetscher

SIBLEY, Iowa -- Born on 12-12-12 -- Dec. 12, 1912, that is -- one might think Matilda "Dolly" Loetscher's favorite number is 12, an even dozen.

"No, I don't have a favorite number," she said, going so far as to shush someone declaring a little too loudly her new centenarian status.

While Dolly may prefer to keep her age a secret, her fellow residents at Sibley Nursing and Rehab Center have eagerly anticipated today's birthday cake. They may even go so far as to sing "Happy Birthday." After all, a 100th birthday isn't all that common, and a birthday on 12-12-12 --well, that seems to be extra special.

Dolly doesn't see it that way, however. In fact, growing up in a poor farming family meant few birthday presents as a child.

"When there was a birthday, we had cocoa and cake," she said. "Not very many birthday presents."

Presents were saved for Christmas, which arrived just a couple of weeks after her birthday. Usually, Dolly would get a new doll or "something like that."

Born on a farm west of Bigelow, Dolly was the daughter of Anno and Sophie Prins. She was the oldest of five children; garnering the nickname Dolly not long after she was born.

A neighbor lady went to help Sophie care for the newborn during those first few days, and upon seeing the infant said, "Oh, she looks just like a dolly." The nickname stuck.

"She's always been called Dolly by the family," explained Dolly's daughter, Barbara Blau.

Dolly's life was far from the pampered variety of a doll, however.

"I was a hired man for my real dad, of course," she said. "He felt pretty proud about that."

Life on the farm was hard work, and Dolly did her share by doing chores, harnessing the horses, plowing fields and cultivating corn rows. She also shocked grain and picked corn.

"You name it," she said of her jobs. "I didn't mind it. I thought I was somebody, you know, helping out there.

"Now, here I sit and do nothing -- lazy old bum," she said with a laugh from the wheelchair parked in her room.

Times were tough growing up on the farm, and Dolly remembers her family not having much money. They would eventually move to rural Brewster.

"Then the Depression came and $2 corn sold for 19 cents," Dolly said.

"That was pretty much the end of their farming," added Blau. Around that time, Dolly's dad died of complications from appendicitis.

Dolly, along with her three sisters and brother, moved into Brewster with their mom following Anno's death. Sophie was able to get a job driving school bus (it was actually the family's car), and Dolly stayed home to care for her siblings. She dropped out of school after the sixth grade.

In order to feed her family, Sophie would get field corn and grind it into corn meal. That, in addition to their garden vegetables and pork received from Sophie's parents, kept the family going.

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"We had bum times and good times and whatnot," said Dolly. When she was in school, Dolly had to walk a mile to get there, and when it was too cold to walk, the old lumber wagon was hitched to the horses and "away we'd go."

"If you didn't want to go to school, you could quit," she said. "It wasn't required -- now you've got to have all that high school and college in order to get a decent job."

In 1929, Sophie remarried to John Haren, and the entire family moved to John's farm west of Sibley. A bachelor until the age of 48, John had quite an adjustment to make with five children in the house, but Dolly said he was real good to them. John and Sophie added another child to the family in 1934, a boy named John.

Two years after that, at the age of 24, Dolly married Alfred Loetscher, a local gunsmith who would often come to the Haren farm to shoot target practice with her step-dad.

"He was a little older than I was, of course," Dolly said.

Their dates consisted of visiting with friends and neighbors or going fishing.

"We went fishing a lot," Dolly said.

In 1936, during the Osceola County Fair in Sibley, the couple had their picture taken. That picture is now considered their wedding photo, as they didn't have photos taken of their wedding day later that year.

Dolly and Alfred made their home east of Sibley, where they raised two children, Barbara (Harry) Blau and Edward (Charnell) Loetscher. The home didn't have an indoor bathroom until 1986.

"She always had the old toilet out back, and the bathtub was a large container of water and you just washed yourself," said Blau. "There was no dishwasher, of course. She had to heat the water on the stove so she could wash her dishes. In the 1970s, she finally got running water in the house."

The family has now grown to include six grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, one step-great-grandchild, three great-great-grandchildren and two step-great-great-grandchildren. Dolly also has three siblings still living -- Henry, 87, Hanna, 84, and John, 78. Henry and Hanna reside in Sibley, while John lives in the Twin Cities.

A birthday party for Dolly and her immediate family is planned on Saturday.

Reflecting on 100 years, Dolly said the secret to a long life is hard work and eating common food --potatoes and meat.

"We never got very many goodies like candy," she said.

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

(507) 376-7330