Interview: Alma Buechler
With Don Zeller and Doris Withers on May 5, 2012
Alma will be 100 years old on May 20th of this year. She joined the Pierre Area Senior Center while she was still working full time. The cost was $2 a year and you had to be 55 years old. She remembers the meals as being great events! At that time she was the housekeeper for the family of Governor Kneip. Nancy Kneip’s mother lived at the Governor’s mansion and she was about the same age as Alma. Nancy’s mother frequently attended the Senior Center events with Alma and together they attended church at the Lutheran Memorial Church. When Alma turned 65 she was forced to retire as that was the State Law at that time. She also worked as the housekeeper for Gov. Frank Farrar.
Alma remembers many special occasions when the Senior Center needed financial help. She contributed extra funds for projects like the building fund, chairs, tables, upgraded lighting and a dishwasher.
The Senior Center got its start at the Congregational Church where potlucks attendance was about 200 and people contributed lots of great food. Back then the kitchen help was six people assigned each week by going down the membership list. If that week did not work for you, you found someone to fill in for the duty. The membership outgrew this fine facility and they were able to raise enough money to build the current building. There was a time when they thought they would out grow this building and they were looking into building another facility in east Pierre.
Evelyn Hanson was the first Senior Center coordinator and served for many years. Tomervik and others have served as the volunteer (not paid) coordinator.
The fund raising events were usually a barbeque meal with lots of salads and desserts. Alma remembers long lines of people waiting outside the building to attend these early meals. She usually made two cakes and two pies for these dinners.
There was a group of ladies that took used greeting cards and re-made them into greeting cards that looked like new. The cards were sold as a fund raiser. There was another group of ladies that worked on six quilting frames making quilts that sold for $50 – this too was a great fund raiser. The quilting frames were set up in the corner of the current card playing area closest to the back door. She remembers the card playing people wanting to use that space, but the quilters were making good money so they got to stay.
The members frequently had square dances on Saturday evenings, and the local square dance club regularly rented the building for their square dance events.
Shortly after the building was constructed a van was purchased and used to go around town and pick up members and bring them to the center, then take them back home afterwards. Henry Ochsner and Rudy Ellwanger were some of the first van drivers. The van was getting old and when River City transit got going the van was sold. The van was used for trips to places like Medora in North Dakota, Tulip Festival in Iowa, Hiawatha Festival in Minnesota, and Deadwood. The bus would hold 15 people so when more people went on a trip they rented the regular buses.
Alma Mehrer was born in Lesterville, SD, and was the third of nine children. She was 14 years old when her father found a larger farm south of Harrold, SD, and moved the family there. They had 30 milk cows and she remembers it being a lot of fun to milk the cows every day. They sang songs the whole time they did the milking. She remembers the bright light from the Aladdin oil lamps they used to light the house in the evenings. Her Dad got a gas generator that was used to charge 20 batteries stored in the basement. This was a 32-volt plant and it provided electricity for the first light bulbs they had at home. One job Alma recalls was that of plowing with 5 horses, 2 in the front and 3 behind. It was difficult to keep the horses moving in the right direction along with keeping the plow blade down in the ground and hardest of all – turning the horses around at the end of the row.
Alma considered being a teacher, but to qualify she would have had to complete high school and go to Summer School for six weeks to be eligible in the Fall.
After marriage she and her husband, Reynold lived in Highmore for ten years. They moved to Pierre in 1944. Reynold had lots of jobs but mostly Alma remembers he delivered bread to the grocery stores. Her husband didn’t work on the Oahe Dam. But her son worked on the Oahe Dam for two weeks and did not like it. He was fortunate to be able to return to his job at Red Owl following those two weeks. Later he went to work at the Post Office and retired after 38 years of service.
Alma’s family, daughters Daph and Vonda and son Jerry, along with her 12 grandchildren, 21 great grandchildren and 8 great, great grand children will gather to celebrate her 100th birthday on June 17th. She is expecting 95 family members.
Alma recently was notified that she Is the oldest active member of the Lutheran Memorial Church, in Pierre.
Alma also received a Proclamation from Governor Dennis Daugaard, on May 2, 2012, in recognition of her 100th birthday.
The Pierre Senior Center honored Alma on May 17, 2012, at the regular Thursday noon potluck.