Tribute to Aunt Cleyta

by | Aug 12, 2011 | family

My Great-Aunt Cleyta passed away last Friday.  She was 104 years old.

Her funeral is tomorrow, and I’m very disappointed that I’m going to miss it.  I will be out of town for soccer with Zach.  Cleyta had more life in her, even at 104 years of age, than most 30 year olds do.  She was an amazing lady…I just wish I would have spent more time with her. 

This past spring, my mother-in-law ran across this article about Cleyta in the local paper, The Standard, where Cleyta lived.  I’m thankful that Peg printed a copy for me.  I found it online and thought you might enjoy reading it as much as I did.  I cherish this article.  May we all live a simple and fulfilling life as Cleyta did!  I’m sure she, and my mom and dad have had quite the reunion in heaven!

Waukon Living Center resident Cleyta Lange reminisces about 104 years of life

by Alyce May

In 1907, Theodore Roosevelt was President of the United States, the American flag had 45 stars, and the average life expectancy was 47 years. That same 104 years ago a baby girl, Cleyta, was born to Charles and Lorena Gorkow in Mederville, Iowa, January 31, 1907.

What’s so remarkable about this baby girl is that today, at 104 years young, Cleyta Gorkow Lange tells stories of her youth with wit, a sparkle in her eye and amazing clarity. She makes her home at the Waukon Living Center, where she has resided for the past year. Too humble to have her photo taken, Cleyta claims the newspaper would lose subscribers if there was a picture of her in it.

Cleyta and her six brothers and sisters were raised in the Clayton County village of Mederville. She recalls the day when her father, a stonemason and brick layer, came home from Elkader driving a Ford automobile. The whole family climbed into the car and eagerly embarked on their first automobile ride. Cleyta can still picture her mother sitting tall and proud in the front seat of the car as her dad drove down the road. That day was made even more memorable when she had her first taste of ice cream. What a treat!

Perhaps somewhat of a tomboy, Cleyta enjoyed playing outdoors with her brothers more than playing dolls with her sisters. However, her brothers didn’t want her hanging around when the neighbor boys came over to play so she would dodge behind a tree so she couldn’t be seen. “Hide and seek”, “Drop the Handkerchief”, and “Run Sheep Run” were some of the popular children’s games they played. She does remember putting a cat in a doll buggy, but the cat jumping out, refusing to stay.

Her family lived near the Volga River, but the children were not allowed to go near it without an adult. In the winter she, along with other children, would skate on the frozen river. She also recalls a covered bridge spanning the river.

As was typical of the era in which Cleyta lived as a child, her mother sewed all the clothing for the family. Cleyta remembers her mother crocheting petticoats for the girls. Cleyta and her sisters always wore a pinafore over their dresses. Girls did not wear jeans or slacks.

“My mother combed my long, dark brown hair and pulled the dickens out of it,” Cleyta recalls. One day her dad gave her 35 cents for a haircut and Cleyta came home with the new-at-that-time bobbed haircut. “My mother was upset,” she remembers with a smile.

The village of Mederville had a country store where five cents could buy quite a few chocolates. Cleyta knew which candies could be purchased for a penny and how many she could buy for two or three cents.

“I always liked school,” says Cleyta. At school some students sat at two-person desks, but she had her own. Since her home was close to school, she and her brothers and sisters would go home at noon for lunch and return to school for the afternoon. Of course, there was no indoor plumbing; however, the school had separate outhouses for the boys and for the girls. She and her family moved to McGregor when Cleyta was in the fourth grade.

Cleyta recalls always having electricity in her home during her growing up years and a telephone was also always present. Two short rings and one long ring designated their unique telephone ring.

Peddlers would travel from home to home and Cleyta remembers the peddlers who would stop in hopes of selling their wares. Their buggies would be loaded with items hanging from the buggy tops. “My mother would always buy something,” recalls Cleyta. As a child she remembers hearing talk of the sinking of the Titanic and her mother purchased a book about the Titanic from one of the peddlers. “My mother liked to read. She got my name from a book; that’s why it’s such an odd name,” she says.

At age 18, Cleyta married Wesley Lange at the Congregational Church in McGregor, Iowa February 23, 1925. The 10:30 a.m. wedding was a double wedding ceremony for Cleyta and Wesley and Cleyta’s brother and his wife. Cleyta’s wedding dress was brown, her favorite color. Iridescent green sashes accented her bridal gown. She wore neither hat nor veil nor flowers. Flowers were available in Prairie du Chien, WI, just across the river from Marquette. However, at that time there was no bridge across the Mississippi River and one could only cross the river in the winter if the ice was thick enough.

Cleyta recalls treacherous winter weather as she and her husband traveled to her brother’s home in Edgewood for a dinner following the wedding ceremony. As was the custom at that time, the newly married couple was honored with a chivaree. Wesley and Cleyta farmed near Froelich, where they had milk cows, a herd of Angus, and horses. Cleyta raised chickens and a big garden. They were the parents of two sons, Duane and Lowell. “I never drove a tractor and I never milked a cow,” she states.

Cleyta liked to dance and especially enjoyed the music of Guy Lombardo, and still does to this day. She and her husband attended a couple of barn dances, enjoyed going out to Friday night fish suppers, and taking a few short trips. Cleyta went to flower judging school and worked at the county fair for years as a flower judge. “Now I can’t tell a dandelion from a carnation,” she laughs.

This remarkable lady has experienced life with horse-drawn carriages, two world wars, the Great Depression, outer space exploration, 19 United States Presidents, and many other inventions and newsworthy events.

With a positive attitude, sprinkled with humor, this centurion-plus lady observes, “We don’t realize how good we have it and how wonderful things are. We do not appreciate what we have.”

“I couldn’t ask for anything better. It’s been good everywhere I go,” she adds.

When asked what she attributes her longevity to, Cleyta leaned forward, smiled, and with a twinkle in her eye replied, “It’s a secret!”

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