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Minnie Burdock was my Grandmother Elvie Craig Tancer's best friend for 70 years.


February 20, 2008

A century of memories with Minnie Burdock

The Oskaloosa Herald


Minnie Burdock turned 103 Tuesday, Feb. 12, and she’s sharp as a tack — especially when it comes to politics.

Minnie became a Democrat in 1944 and she doesn’t hold back with her enthusiasm about her politics. Currently, Minnie is a staunch supporter of Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton.

“She’s a godsend to mankind,” Minnie said of Clinton during an interview on her birthday.

Minnie also likes Bill Clinton.

This year, Minnie met Hillary Clinton at a rally in Ottumwa, and Minnie said she told Hillary, “I really like Bill.” In Minnie’s book, Bill Clinton is “a town and country boy. Bill’s a

good boy.”

While Minnie keeps track of current politics, she also is a treasure trove of stories from her life experiences that spans more than a century.

Although she currently lives at North Mahaska Nursing and Rehad Center in Oskaloosa, Minnie has always been a What Cheer girl.

Minnie was born on Feb. 12, 1905, a day she said her father, Henry Van Patten, called the “coldest day” ever. She was born in What Cheer, and later the family moved to the country and lived on a farm.

Minnie’s family included her father; mother, Elizabeth “Lidia”; and four siblings Rob, Elbert, Pansy and Frank.

Minnie attended a one-room country school — Rinehart — from the first- through eighth-grades. She didn’t attend high school. She lived about three-quarters of a mile from the school.

Minnie remembered that if it was snowing bad, her father would come to the school with a bobsled to pick up the kids.

There are two Rinehart teachers that stick out in Minnie’s mind — Cleland Wells and Conrad Recktenwald.

Minnie particularly remembers playing a prank on Wells. Wells had told the class that he had a treat for them but wouldn’t reveal what it was. Well, Minnie and some of her friends gathered near the coal house at noon. When Wells went in to get some coal, Minnie and her friends sneaked up and locked Wells in the coal house until he gave the kids the treat, which turned out to be a picture postcard.

While the students had a little fun with Wells at his expense, Minnie had fond memories of the teacher. He was never cross with his students and he never scolded them, although the students teased and distract the teacher, she said.

While Minnie never attended high school, she did take the eight-grade twice. When it was time to take the eighth-grade exam, the weather was bad, so the mud roads were difficult to travel on and Minnie’s mother was sick and needed her. So, Minnie repeated the eighth-grade.

During her school days, Minnie also met her future husband, Richard Burdock. They had been courting since Minnie was 14. Minnie remembers that her girlfriends would help her sneak out so she could see Burdock.

They got married on July 22, 1921, when she was 17 and he was 22.

“I had to ask my dad for permission to get married,” Minnie said. “Dick didn’t — he was 22.”

“I made my wedding dress,” Minnie said.

Minnie’s daughter, Genevieve, visited her at North Mahaska Nursing and Rehab Center on her birthday. Genevieve brought her husband, Frank Coppersmith, along for the visit. Genevieve also added her memories of

growing up.

Minnie and her family lived on a farm in Keokuk County near the Keokuk-Mahaska County line.

“Mom had a big garden and canned,” Genevieve said.

Genevieve remembers a time when her grandfather came over and helped Minnie plant some onion sets in the garden. Her younger brother followed the pair with a rake and pretty much ruined the work they had done.

Genevieve remembers that her parents were always good to their kids.

“I never remember (them) giving the kids a whipping,” she said. However, “I remember getting my mouth washed out with soap.”

Genevieve remembers that the family made their own soap.

Minnie said they used a big iron kettle to mix lye and rendered lard to make the soap.

“Nothing was thrown away,” Minnie said.

Genevieve remembers that the family moved into What Cheer in 1934 during the Great Depression.

Times were tough.

“Dad had a coal mine on the county line,” Genevieve said. Her father sold coal, but during the Depression, many people did not have the money to pay for the coal, so they took IOUs.

In 1941, Minnie and her family moved to a 40-acre farm south of What Cheer and Minnie lived there for the next 67 years.

“She lived there by herself until December 2007,” Genevieve said.

Genevieve said her mother always stayed busy.

Minnie owned and operated a restaurant for seven years, Genevieve said. The restaurant was called “Minnie Pearl’s Café” in What Cheer and she opened it in 1963.

Minnie always has been active in politics. She worked on campaigns and on the election board, her daughter said.

Minnie also worked on the American Cancer Society Cancer Board and was a member of The Sunshine Club.

Genevieve said her father died in 1990. He and Minnie were married for 68 years. After her father passed away, Genevieve said Minnie bought some properties and became a landlord and managed the business up to last year.

Minnie has a long legacy — besides her two children, she has four grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and nine great-great-grandchildren. Also, she has one living daughter-in-law, Genevieve said.

The family held a big birthday party for Minnie when she turned 100.

“We had a big bash at the Keokuk County Fairgrounds,” Genevieve said. About 300 people attended the party.

“She remembered them all but two,” Genevieve added.

This year, the family held a party for her about a week ago, and then the North Mahaska Nursing and Rehab Center staff treated Minnie and her daughter and son-in-law, and granddaughter to ice cream sundaes on Tuesday, Genevieve said.

So after living for more than a century, what’s Minnie’s secret to a long life?

It’s simple.

Don’t smoke, don’t drink and eat what you want, Minnie said.

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