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A Centenarian Looks Back at a Life of Passion »
Looking back on life from the perspective of 100 years, Marcella Dittenber, who turned 100 on November 13 last year, sees a lot of change, although it happened slowly over the decades. She has memories of hardship as well as some wonderful times.
Now a member of the Torrington Church, Dittenber was born on a farm near Lynch, Nebraska, in 1918, She came of age during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl years. As the dust storms ravaged the land and the depression ravaged the economy, she remembers her father losing five farms.
She found respite as well as passion in the old country school in eastern Nebraska she and her siblings attended with other children from the community. She loved her teacher who “was a good Christian person and a good leader. She thought of each one of us children so much. I saw her kindness and what she did [to help each child].”
This teacher, who brought an old pump organ to school, started her on a lifelong love of music and helped her learn to play the piano using lessons that came to the teacher by mail and which were then passed on to her. All these years later, Dittenber plays piano and organ for her church and is skilled on the accordion and harmonica.
The influence of this same teacher led her to take teacher training while still in high school, taking advantage of a two-year program leading to a teaching license. Her teaching career began as soon as she graduated from high school in 1937 under that license. The degree came later after attending Chadron State College, Eastern Wyoming College, the University of Wyoming, and a college in Greeley, Colorado where she graduated with her teaching degree.
She was married in 1943 to Herman Dittenber, a farmer, who eventually traded farming for the iron mines, moving to Wyoming in 1954. During this time, Marcella prospered as a teacher and developed a reputation as one of the best elementary teachers around. Remembering the fun, loving atmosphere she learned under so many years before, she strived to provide this for her own students. Hauling refrigerator boxes to school, she used them to create a village with a functioning store where students could learn to count money. A math lesson might involve baking a cake and selling it to other teachers.
“I wanted my own room, so I knew what each child was doing in math and English, reading and writing, and any other subjects,” she said.
More than half a century later, Marcella still hears from her students. Sometime around her birthday, she received a letter from a student who had attended a Vacation Bible School she taught in the 1940s. He wanted to thank her for being a good influence on him.
She gets that a lot, she says. She’s always happy to know that she had an impact on her students. Sometimes, though, she needs a little help remembering names. When they come up to her now, she often says, “Who are you?” “In 100 years,” she explains, “I am forgetting so much. I can’t keep it all straight.”
According to Marcella, a long happy life includes having fun in the classroom and enjoying her work. She believes in clean living and has never used alcohol or smoked. She’s a long-time vegetarian, which she says is just “cleaner”.
“You can get a vegetarian substitute for lots of it,” she explains. “It’s made from soy products and they are healthy.”
“Being a Christian is the most important,” she said adding to her list of keys to a happy life. “Being kind to children, loving to them and helping out those that are weak.”
“Darlene is one of the sharpest 100-year old people I’ve ever met,” said Ed Barnett, RMC president, who visited Torrington church last Sabbath, January 12. “She drove herself to church She spoke up in Sabbath School and was right on track. She played the piano in church. and also still lives by herself. And she’s 100 years old,” he added.
When meeting Darlene, Barnett was “nicely surprised that she was so with it and freely converse with all of us,” he commented.
“Over her life’s decades she’s had to adapt to the changing times . She’s an example of staying firm and committed to her faith and church,” Barnett continued.
“It almost made me a believer that I want to be a healthy 100,” he reflected.
-- RMCNews with Tom Milstead and Carol Bolden