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Arta Plenda turns 100

By By Renae B. Vander Schaaf

Date Modified: 03/05/2013 9:19 AM

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ORANGE CITY, Iowa — To experience 100 birthdays is remarkable. To visit with Arta Plender is fascinating.

Arta was born in a farm house near Boyden on Jan. 12, 1913, to Gerrit and Gert Vander Wilt.

Arta was their first born. She has been told that Dr. De Bey came from Orange City. He was assisted by a farm wife from the neighborhood who often was called in. Two years later, her brother, Peter, was born, followed by brothers Arnold and Cliff. Then 15 years to Arta's birth date, a sister, Anna Mae, was born.

Arta went to country school near Boyden, and when her family moved to a farm closer to Newkirk, she attended a different country school. They walked the half mile twice each day unless a neighbor picked them up on the way.

"My dinner was a sandwich packed in newspaper carried in a syrup pail," said Arta. "The sandwich often was peanut butter or jelly, we had put up during the summer. Usually fruit of some kind, apple being the most common, and a cookie. Bread was always homemade."

Newkirk was the first to consolidate country schools in Sioux County.

"Every morning, we first had chapel, at which time, the Pledge of Allegiance was recited. The superintendent read from the Bible and prayed. Any announcements for the day were also relayed," she said.

One day each week, students walked to the Newkirk Reformed Church, where they were instructed in the Heidelberg Catechism.

Mother was always home when the children got home from school, she said.

"That was a good thing, because our first words were, 'We are hungry, what do you have for us to eat?'"

Often it was homemade doughnuts or cake.

The earliest chores she remembers is picking up cobs. Cobs fueled the cook stove. The only other heat came from a wood stove in the dining room.

"The frost sparkled in our bedrooms," Arta said.

The milk was put in cream cans, then transported on a coaster wagon to the house, where the Vander Wilt family separated the milk from the cream.

Skim milk was fed to the pigs; the cream sold to the creamery in Orange City. The truck would come out a few times each week to pick up the full cream cans, leave empty ones and whatever butter the family had ordered.

The Vander Wilts would get baby chicks each spring from the Bloemendaal Hatchery in Alton.

"We first kept them warm under a brooder stove heated with kerosene. We butchered the roosters for ourselves and others."

Eggs were traded for groceries, either at the Newkirk Grocery or for the peddlers wagon that came from Middleburg. Bill Bomgaars was one of the peddlers.

"He would always give us children a handful of peanuts," Arta said. "The wagons contained practically everything -- thread, material, grocery items."

They grew a huge garden and did lots of canning on the cookstove, which made the house very hot.

Arta didn't help much in the fields because her Peter was just two years younger. The oldest girl was expected to assist her mother with her work.

"Preparing food for the threshers took a bit of planning and doing," she said. "Sometimes, neighbor ladies would help each other out. There was a lot of food to prepare. Twelve to 15 hungry men can eat plenty. We made the apple pies the day before."

The Vander Wilts often served fried chicken or roast beef, always with mashed potatoes and gravy and vegetables.

After graduating from high school in 1931, she remained at home, doing housework for others. The depression years began.

"We had always lived frugally, but it was even more ingrained those years."

She and her mother sewed. Chicken feed came in cloth sacks, which could be made into clothing or quilt tops.

The family made their own fun. Baseball games were between neighborhoods. One night, the Korver boys were going to play her brothers' neighborhood team. The game took place in a pasture. Henry Plender was there. This farm boy from east Alton was a Korver cousin.

After the game, Arta Vander Wilt and her friend joined the others at the county fair in nearby Orange City.

"We just kept keeping company," said Arta. "We never called each other; party telephone lines were not very private. We were never alone, always with other people."

Their marriage took place after five years of courtship. They had made plans to marry earlier, but parental illnesses and the Great Depression caused the delay.

Henry and Arta's wedding took place in her parent's home on Feb. 18, 1938. She bought her dress at a dime store in Sioux City for $10. A newspaper clipping describes the dress as a "lovely, peach taffeta ankle-length gown."

They were married by her Uncle Peter Van Es.

"There was deep snow that day," she recalled. "The road crew had to work to get the roads open so our guests could come. We cooked up many chickens for the hot chicken sandwiches served for the reception with date bread and cake.''

They set up housekeeping on a farm located one-half mile from Henry's parents with five sows, 12 milk cows and chickens. The men farmed the crop land together, and she and Henry's sisters prepared the meals together for threshing crews. This was their home for four years. Then they moved to a different farm near Alton for another decade.

"Those houses were old and cold," Arta said. "It wasn't until we moved to the farm just north of Orange City in 1952 that we lived in a house with electricity and indoor plumbing. Oh what a blessing!"

They had 40 milk cows, usually with 25 milking at a time. Their children included Arlin, Dwayne and Donna.

"We were in church on Dec. 7, 1941, when we got the call about Pearl Harbor," said Arta. "We went over to Art Kleinhesselink's home. We sat in the kitchen listening to the radio, in shock as we all were on Sept. 11, 2001. Our hearts were full of emotion when we heard President Franklin Roosevelt say, "We are at war!"

Her three brothers were among those drafted.

"Often, when a large number of young men were leaving, a farewell service was held at the community building in Orange City. Hymns were sung, prayers and a sermon was given by ministers and others in the armed services," she said. "It was hard. The young men left by train in Alton."

Her parents received news that her brother, Arnold, who was in the Air Force, had been killed. The sheriff and army officials came to their house. Her father was in bed with heart problems.

"Two planes nicked wings in the air, crashing to the ground; all 17 servicemen were killed," she said.

Farming during the war years involved tractors, horses and physical labor. The Plenders owned a Farmall tractor and farm implements, but fuel was rationed. Neighbors and others pitched it to get done what needed to be done.

It was a day of jubilation when news that the war had ended. They heard the news on the radio. Then the bells of the Alton Catholic church rang and rang to proclaim the news. Every train coming through blew their whistles for all to hear.