Remembering a century plus one
But everyone agrees she doesn’t act her real age, either. Niederberger has slowed down a bit at 101, but still remains alert and active.
Did she ever expect to see the century mark, much less go beyond? “I never thought about it,” she said with a laugh.
Niederberger marked her 101st birthday Tuesday with an open house at the Dayton home she shares with daughter, Pauline Niederberger. Cousins and other relatives dropped by Sunday for a subdued celebration.
“The big party was last year for her 100th,” her daughter said.
Born Evelyn Bronson on Feb. 19, 1912, Neiderberger grew up in various towns in Oregon, as her family moved a lot. When she was a child, horses were still used for most of those moves.
It was a long time before her family bought its first car, she recalled.
At one point, her grandfather tried to bring a car home, but it became stuck on the long, muddy wagon road leading to the house. So he arrived on foot.
The first time she visited Newberg, she recalled, there were three cars in town. One belonged to the owner of the feed store, one to the town banker and the third to the proprietor of the dry goods store.
She didn’t enter school until she was 8. And she said, “In eight years, I went to eight different schools.”
But that didn’t prevent her from becoming valedictorian of her high school graduating class.
Always a good student, Niederberger was especially adept at memorizing. During her second-grade year, when the family was living in Sheridan, her grandfather was impressed by her memorized performance at a school program.
The Civil War veteran, who had been a doctor during the conflict, asked her to memorize the Gettysburg Address. That year, Sheridan was hosting a reunion of the Grand Army of the Republic, and her grandfather wanted her to deliver Lincoln’s most famous words.
At the event, he lifted the 10-year-old onto a platform in front of hundreds of veterans. “I’m depending on you,” he whispered.
After her successful recitation, he lifted her down and someone handed her an ice cream cone as a reward. “That was maybe the first ice cream cone I ever had,” she said, recalling how much she enjoyed the treat.
Neiderberger started working as a household helper when she was still a teen.
Her parents always told her they wouldn’t take her wages, she recalled. “But they always borrowed my money and forgot to pay it back.”
One of her employers, Anne Kennedy Smith, had a great influence on her life. Smith was so inspirational, in fact, that Niederberger dedicated her autobiography to the St. Paul woman.
She worked for Smith, a former Oregon mother of the year, for six years. She helped with the house and learned to sew, a skill that would serve her the rest of the life.
“Mrs. Smith was wonderful,” Niederberger said. “She would get furious if anyone said I was a ‘maid.’ She called me her friend.”
One year at the St. Paul rodeo dance, she met Paul Niederberger, a Dundee farmer who would become her fiancé. They married April 26, 1938 — the Tuesday after Easter.
At the time, the Catholic Church wouldn’t permit anyone to get married on a weekend or during Lent.
She moved to the prune orchard Paul and his brother, Albert, had on Niederberger Road. Her in-laws, who lived across the road, operated a prune dryer in addition to managing a prune orchard of their own.
Later, after the decline of the prune industry, the family grew strawberries, cherries, nuts and black raspberries, which they called blackcaps.
Evelyn and Paul worked together on the farm and in the dryer. When Albert opened a grocery store in town, she worked there, too.
And she ran the house as well. Famed for her sewing and tailoring skills, she made all of the clothes for her husband, herself and children Pauline, David and Linda. Later, she was known for her “quillows,” quilts that fold up into pillows, and for the extensive Christmas village she created from yarn and plastic canvas.
Paul Niederberger died in 1976. In 1987, she moved to Dayton to live with their daughter.
Niederberger said her years with Pauline, a retired teacher, have been great.
“We’ve had a lot of fun together,” she said. “This has probably been one of the happiest times of my life.”
They’ve done a lot of things together, from crafts to reading, though she has to get her Westerns, mysteries and biographies in audio form these days. And they’ve traveled extensively.
Taking their tent-trailer with them, they camped their way across the country, visiting relatives in South Dakota and monuments in Washington, D.C. They’ve also enjoyed camping along the Oregon coast and in Canada. One year, they followed the Oregon Trail, camping each night as the pioneers did.
About the only trail Niederberger hasn’t been on is the Dundee Bypass.
“They were talking about that the year I was married,” she said, recalling her move to the village of 108 residents in 1938. “And they’re still talking about it.”