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Archive for Monday, March 31, 2003

Rural Kansan nears 105

March 31, 2003

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— Opal Dickenson's memories go way back.

She remembers riding in a covered wagon with her parents, who lived in several different towns across the Kansas countryside. She can remember when the first cars and airplanes started showing up and when man landed on the moon.

Dickenson's life has spanned three centuries. She will add another year on April 16, when she turns 105. But she still lives alone in a small home on a corner lot in this community of 461, in the far southwest corner of the state.

She has been through several wars, and now she is living through another.

Dickenson had brothers in World War I and World War II. And she did her share of war rationing. But she doesn't like war. She wishes there could be peace.

"I think war is a poor way to get along," she said. "I just don't like it."

For more than 20 years, Dickenson taught school, sometimes as a full-time teacher, sometimes as a substitute.

"I graduated in 1915," from Ellinwood High School, she said. "I was a schoolteacher, in an old-fashioned, one-room schoolhouse."

She also was a farm wife, raising two children, daughter Rebecca Day and son Terry Dickenson, on the farm near Rolla.

Dickenson, whose husband, Lawrence, died in 1961, used to be more active and was involved in civic organizations, church and life on the farm. Many remember her as the woman always out in her garden, tending the flowers. But her health has kept her inside lately.

Dickenson misses working outside, misses helping her flowers grow.

"Are there any flowers?" she asks her daughter, who comes to check on her daily, referring to flower beds that circle the house.

Not yet, her daughter replies. "I'm sure they'll be up soon."

Day, 76, attributes her mother's long life to good genes.

"She is the second to oldest and has surpassed the last one by several years. ... She has seen a lot, she has done a lot in her lifetime."

Dickenson says healthy living has played a part in her long life.

"I worked up an appetite, so I had to do something, I guess," she joked.

Day has a different theory.

"It's stubbornness," she said.

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