Ockfen attended sod schoolhouse on Nebraska prairie
- Susan Matheny
- Madras Pioneer - News
Celebrating 100th birthday
When Lucille Ockfen turned 100 on Feb. 6, five generations of family members flocked in to celebrate with a party at Abby's Pizza in Madras.
During her century of living, Lucille has lived in a sod house on the prairies of Nebraska, helped ration food during the Depression, and fished for salmon in the coastal waters of Washington state.
"I lived in sod houses and went to school in sod houses," Lucille said, adding, "We burned cow chips in one place we lived on the western Nebraska prairie."
Born in Fairfield, Neb., Feb. 6, 1905, to Charles A. and Ruperta T. (Seward) Massie, Lucille was the second oldest in a family of four children. Her older brother was Charles, and younger siblings were Arthur and Gertrude. They were related on their mother's side to Secretary of State William Seward, who in the 1860s advised President Lincoln and negotiated the U.S. purchase of Alaska from Russia.
She described her dad as a "jack-of-all-trades," who farmed, was in the harness trade, and at times was a country veterinarian. Because of his work, the family moved a lot, living all over Nebraska, and in Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana.
"But Nebraska was always our home base," Lucille said, recalling she attended first, fifth and ninth grades in Fairfield, Neb.
Lucille has a good memory for dates and can rattle off the exact days and places important things happened in her life. Her younger years weren't that eventful, but she remembered one adventure.
They were visiting at a ranch and when it got time to go, Lucille was nowhere to be found and everyone was out looking. Finally, as her dad came near, she called out, "Papa, I'm up here!" and they discovered she had climbed up the windmill.
The sod houses she lived in were warm and sturdy. "The sides were made out of sod piled up in chunks. Even the roof was sod and had cactus blooming off of it," she said.
At the age of 6, she developed inflammatory rheumatism and was sick for three months. There was an old doctor in the area who made house calls and he arrived periodically with a medicine that was so horrible-tasting, she cried whenever she heard he was coming.
When she was finally well enough to sit up in bed, she said her mother entertained her by giving her a flat iron and letting her iron handkerchiefs.
What finally cured her was a home remedy. "A neighbor down the street from my grandma made a square frame covered with oil cloth. There was a stool inside and an alcohol lamp with a pan of water, and I sweated it out," she said, noting she had to learn how to walk again after recovering.
Out on the farms they had cows, horses, pigs and her mother raised a big garden, but Lucille wasn't asked to help with chores "because mama didn't want me to ruin my hands," she said, laughing at the irony of the hard work her hands would do later in life.
Lucille wasn't interested in housework either. "I was an outdoor person. I couldn't stand to stay in the house and I didn't care for dolls. Charles and I played outside all the time," she said.
Nebraska had "blow outs," or hilly areas, where her brother liked to trap skunks and she would help. "He sold the hides for a quarter. He'd pull the trap out and I'd hold the trap while he killed the skunk," she said.
Every week, the family would walk several miles to visit their Nebraska neighbors, because those neighbors were in charge of going to town to get the mail. Sometimes, if she got tired, Lucille's dad would carry her on the way back.
When they got school age, the Massie children walked the railroad tracks or rode horses to school.
"In the winter the snow drifted and would get solid and you could walk over the fence posts," she recalled.
In 1920, her parents sold a place they had in Missouri and their dad went west to Puyallup, Wash. Meanwhile, their mother went to visit her folks in Canada, taking young Arthur and Gertrude with her, while Charles and Lucille went to live a year with Grandma Massie.
After their parents bought a farm in Roy, Wash., Charles and Lucille rode the train out in 1921 to join the rest of the family. "The farm had milk cows and a creek running through it, where we learned about salmon going up all the creeks," she said.
Lucille attended her last three years of school at Roy High School, graduating in 1924 with a class of six students. It was there that she met her future husband, Albert Ockfen.
"He was a nice fella. When he was a junior, he had a car and went around the area and picked up kids and took them to school," she said.
Albert graduated a year ahead of her and attended college in Pullman for a year. They were married Nov. 28, 1925, at the courthouse in Tacoma, Wash., then lived on his parents' 160-acre farm in McKenna, Wash. His parents were Charles and Sophie Ockfen. His dad was from Germany, and his mother was part French Canadian and part Cowlitz Indian.
Instead of worrying about "ruining her hands," Lucile had to learn how to milk three cows on this farm. To get water for the house and livestock, they also had to go across the road to a spring to activate a "ram" that pumped it through a long pipe up the hill.
In 1926, their daughter Marjorie (now Croft) was born at the Ockfen place. When Lucille and Albert moved to an old house a mile away, Marjorie wanted to stay with grandma, so Grandma Ockfen raised her.
Two more children were born, Leslie "Earl" in 1927, and Doris in 1929, and they lived with their parents, with Marjorie coming over to visit a lot.
Besides farming, Albert worked in the McKenna lumber mill, which was one of the biggest in the country at that time.
During the years of the Great Depression, Lucille sat on the sugar rationing board for the McKenna area. She remembered different times when people helped each other out as resources got scarce.
"It got so bad that the government let people have bales of cotton and we all got together and made mattresses. Dad went to Tacoma (to get the cotton) and put piles of it on boards and the kids took sticks and had to pound the cotton to fluff it up. I had a sewing machine and one woman sewed the mattresses together. Then we sewed a roll on the edges with a needle and great big string," Lucille said, noting she still has that sewing machine and one of the mattresses.
Things got a little better when her husband got a job with the WPA framing and pouring sidewalks at McKenna School for wages of $1 a day. They both were hired as school janitors for two years at $30 a month, and Lucille also cooked the hot lunches.
The menu was a little different in those days. The lunch consisted of cocoa on Mondays and Wednesdays, and soup on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
"The farmers donated potatoes and milk and I'd go to the butcher shop and get a soup bone. It wasn't much, but it was hot and the kids liked it real well," she said.
In 1940, they moved to Puyallup so Albert could be closer to the shipyards where he had found steady work. They bought a farm with 20 acres, and Albert built their house himself. To help earn money, Lucille and the kids picked strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and pine cones, which were taken to a seed mill in Roy, Wash.
Because Albert kept getting calls to work on weekends, they began leaving town on Saturdays to fish and go rockhounding. "We belonged to four rockhound clubs and used to come down to Oregon to the Priday and Hay Creek ranches and go to Idaho to dig rocks," Lucille said, noting Albert made rock jewelry.
With their boat and trailer, they enjoyed fishing on Hood Canal, American Lake and digging for gooey ducks and horse clams at the coastal town of Sekiu, on the tip of the Olympic Peninsula. "We caught salmon, and some had shrimp boxes and would smoke them and boy was that good," Lucille said.
Lucille was active in the community, as a member of the Fruitland Grange (now a 70-year member), Royal Neighbors Club, and served on the election board in Washington for many years.
"We counted the ballots by hand and once we worked all night long and I had to walk 1 1/2 miles home in the morning in the fog," she remembered.
Albert passed away on Christmas Eve 1989, while they were living in Sumner, Wash. Three years ago, Lucille came to live permanently in Madras with her daughter Marjorie and granddaughter Linda.
At her 100th birthday party in February, five generations of relatives arrived from Nevada, Washington and Myrtle Creek, Ore., to help her celebrate. Local relatives include her grandchildren: Larry and Mary Smith, Rosemary and Joe Ariz-Mendez, Linda McIntosh, and Allan and Tammy Smith, all of Madras. She has eight grandchildren; 17 great-grandchildren; and 22 great-great-grandchildren. Her daughter Doris Cartwright has passed away.
Brother Arthur, 87, of Washington came to the party, but her sister Gertrude, 89, of Washington, and son, Leslie Earl Ockfen of Montana, were unable to attend.
With her many years of experience, Lucille said her words of wisdom for others is to "Do the best that you can along the way and find an older person that can give you advice."
She credits her long life to the simple, wholesome diet they ate growing up. "We were poor, so we at a lot of beans, and also some potatoes and some meat," she said.
Genetics also was a factor, she said, noting, "My dad lived to be 92, (brother) Charles, 91, and my dad's mother, 99."