Two years before President Wilson sent American doughboys to Europe to fight in World War I, 5 years before women gained the right to vote and decades before the arrival of atomic bombs and everyday computers, Doris was born on March 7, 1915.
She died on November 6, 2020 in Blue Valley Lutheran Nursing Home, Hebron. During her 105 years and 8 months, she lived through another world war, several ferocious conflicts and smaller ones that continue today.
Visitation with family will be Thursday, Nov. 12, from 2:30 – 5:00 PM at Price Funeral Home, Hebron. Graveside celebration of life and interment will be 2:00 PM on Friday, at the Belvidere City Cemetery.
She became a life-long resident of Thayer County after being born near Enterprise, Kansas, to Milton Widler and Mary Tagler Widler and they moved Toddler Doris to Nebraska. When asked whether she felt old at 105 years, she would reply, “No I really don’t. It’s just a number.”
When growing up, Doris walked to country school, often braving winter winds so bitter that she remembered them up to her 100th birthday. While President Hoover was trying to overcome the stock market crash of 1929, Doris could dance a mean Charleston in a flowing flapper dress.
She was graduated from Belvidere High School in 1931 at the early age of 16. Then she enrolled in a summer college session at Kearney, thanks to money borrowed from her grandfather Tagler. When she repaid him, he drove all the way from Kansas—in a slow-moving car then—to Nebraska and returned the money, saying she had been a good student. That schooling certified her to teach in a country school, which she did for a year.
Doris was the oldest of nine children. After Doris came brothers Shorty, Bob and Don, Lowell and Max—all with wavy black hair and big brown eyes. She was so excited when her baby sister arrived. But when she saw Betty’s big brown eyes, she was jealous and vowed on the spot that –rich or poor--she would marry a guy with brown eyes.
But, as she recounted a half a century later, the rest is history. She married Martin Deepe, who had the bluest eyes on the planet. And no brown eyes showed up in their offspring, Beverly Ann and Barbara Joan. However, much later, after two cataract operations and half a dozen injections straight into her eyeball to stave off macular degeneration, Doris decided the important thing was, “just so those little peepers keep working.” Hers kept working until age 105.
Doris had a long life, but like many in her generation, it was not an easy one. On Aug. 28, 1934, she and Mr. Blue-Eyes eloped to Kansas and were married. That’s how all young couples did it in those days; none had any money during the Depression.
The Depression denied Doris the college education she dreamed of and Martin his hopes of becoming a veterinarian. The young couple moved to a remote farm and house that was heavily mortgaged by Martin’s father. Martin started farming with teams of work horses.
During the driest years on record, crops were so sparse and the prices so low that the Deepes struggled to raise enough grain to pay the mortgage and taxes needed to save the farm.
The house was—as Doris routinely called it—just a shell and not fit to live in. Lacking indoor plumbing, she recounted, “We carried water in and the pot out.” Without insulation the shell was so frigid in winter that the water froze in the bucket by the sink. She carried water from the windmill to the kitchen.
In the summer, icy water pumped up by the windmill into a barrel provided refrigeration for foods packed into jars. A kerosene lamp broke the darkness. It would be 19 years before Doris would live in a house with electricity and a flush-able toilet.
“We had good food,” she recounted 70 years later, “but we had to work for it.” Everything was made from scratch. She raised baby chicks to become the hens providing eggs and meat; one year she tried raising turkey gobblers but frigid weather froze their wattles.
She separated milk for cream, which she also churned into butter. She planted a garden for vegetables and canned its produce for the winter months. She cooked for hired men and crews that worked with Martin and his threshing machine, cranking homemade ice cream for them when harvesting had finished.
Besides being Martin’s help-mate, Doris was a doting mother, curling, starching, encouraging and pampering what she called to the very end “my two little girls.” The parents made sure their two daughters would have the higher education that the Depression had stolen from them.
Without a radio on Dec. 7, 1941, Martin and Doris learned the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor from her parents. Her father heard the news and exclaimed “this is bad.” Her mother predicted, “This is war.” Four of the little brothers whom Doris had helped care for and sister Betty went off to war.
The Depression years forged a lifestyle for Doris and Martin that persisted through their 71 years of marriage. They avoided going into debt, paying for everything they bought. They never owned a credit card. They tended to buy tax-free bonds to avoid expenditures.
When her brother-in-law Paul told Doris she and Martin were tight with money, she retorted: “That’s not true. I don’t want much--but I want it good.” Paul laughed. They bought good but took good care of it.
When worn out, Doris cut work shirts and dresses into strips and had rag rugs made—those rugs are now collector’s items. Martin became renowned for using bailing wire for repairs and driving an almost-antique green pickup. Through this Depression-etched scrimping and back-breaking work, the couple was able to buy two farms near Carleton and amass a million-dollar estate.
Never forgetting their Dust Bowl beginning, Doris recalled the greatest transformation of family farm life was the electrogator. “When I first saw that miracle machine,” Doris recounted years later, “I said I want one.” (She got two.)
It meant Doris would no longer on bended knees have to use her own hands to irrigate corn fields by inserting her finger into a metal siphon tube filled with icy water from a well and heave it over a ditch into a nearby crop row.
Even when Doris was isolated in the shell of a house on a dirt road, she was socially engaged. She would drive their old Ford to the social aid club in Carleton more than 10 miles away. She was a 4-H leader when her daughters were growing up. She joined and became the oldest living member of the historic Congregational Church in Belvidere—when it went by that name—and the Belvidere Woman’s Club, where she was a member for more than 50 years; she helped with their luncheons and other activities for as long as she could. She rejoiced in playing cards with a small group of long-time friends, appropriately dubbed “The Hearts Club.”
She is survived by sister, Audrey Widler Else; sister-in-law, Marilyn Dow Widler; daughter, Beverly Deepe Keever and her husband, Charles; by numerous nieces and nephews; and other relatives.
She was preceded in death by her husband of 71 years, Martin; and her younger daughter Barbara Joan; parents and 7 brothers and sisters.
In honor of Doris, memorials may be sent to the Thayer County Museum, 110 9th Street, Belvidere, NE. 68315.
When that little lady with a big heart tried to explain the unexplainable, like saying a final goodbye to a friend, she would often reply: “That’s just the way it is. It was meant to be.”
DUE TO NEW DHHS GUIDELINES FACE COVERINGS ARE REQUIRED AS WELL AS SOCIAL DISTANCING
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