When Margaret Dohrman celebrates her 100th birthday on Wednesday, April 27, the sprightly Homer, Neb. native won’t be surprised she lived so long. After all, she is still living in the Emerson, Neb. home she moved into with her late husband Walter back in 1949. She still tends to her home and her gardens and, until last year, she continued to drive her own car. She still roots for her Cornhuskers. And she managed to live through that terrible tornado that demolished the family farm on Sept. 13, 1928. After that, everything else in her life came easy ... at least for someone who came of age during the Great Depression.
“I can do a few things, move around a few things, but I have to be mighty careful,” she said, noting how relieved her five children were when she stopped driving. She’s still getting used to the loss of complete independence this represents, though son Jerry Dohrman makes sure she still gets her groceries and other supplies.
While she is not sure about the secret to her long life, Margaret said one reason is “because I’ve been active. I kept active all through my years.”
After her husband retired, they “trailered for a while,” taking their camper to a permanent winter home in Tucson, Ariz. She even made the trip on her own for several years after Walt, a successful Emerson businessman, passed away in 1984.
“I’ve been a widow for a very long time,” she observed.
She vividly recalls the tornado that destroyed her family’s farm home near Homer back in 1928. Just 17 and graduated from high school, college-bound Margaret and her mother were trying to get her clothes ready for the university trip when some linemen who were trimming the maple trees in front of their place asked if they could use their garage because of a coming storm. Later, when they were upstairs, oblivious to the weather, the same linemen hollered up that a “tornado was brewing” and asking if they had a cave for shelter. They didn’t, but the neighbor across the road had a nice cave.
“And I says, ‘We’ve got to get going right now. There’s a tornado, and it’s coming from the southwest. It’s heading this way,’” she said. “So my mother and I grabbed each other and started out and what did I do but fall off the porch flat and broke my collarbone. But we got over to the cave on time. And as we were coming across our front yard, we could see the tornado stirring up the cornstalks and the things in the cornfield coming away. We just barely got there in time.”
It was a full cave. Along with the linemen to whom they owed their lives were the neighbors and a number of other passersby, about two dozen in all.
“I’m telling you ... it was quite a thing. To me, it sounded just like a train going over the top of the cave,” she said. “I know the men had to hold that inside door closed to keep it from sucking us all out of the cave there.”
When they finally climbed out, they found a large, green tree branch embedded in the cave. And their house, well, it was just gone. That was when the worrying began, though. And it didn’t stop until Dad and Margaret’s teacher sister got home from their jobs in Homer, along with her other siblings who had been away at school at the time. “Nobody was hurt. Even the dog and the cats were alive,” she said.
While she follows the news about the more recent tornadoes, it is not the tornadoes but lightning storms that still scare her.
Margaret went on to become a teacher herself. So when she met Walt at a dance and eventually fell in love, they had to elope in 1935 to Madison, S.D., and keep the marriage a secret just so she could keep her job. Mom didn’t suspect they were married, but she’s pretty sure Dad knew.
She and Walt used to go dancing every week in Sioux City where Lawrence Welk and his Wednesday night dance band often provided the music. One way Walt won her heart was by letting her dance with other fellows, including one of Welk’s singers, something her previous suitor simply didn’t approve. “It’s not so much fun dancing with the same person all the time,” she said.
Walt’s work in the tool-and-die business took them to California and Texas before they returned to Emerson a few years after the end of World War II. And there she remains. Of her six siblings, two younger sisters still remain.