Chillicothe still favorite place to live

Just as Haley’s Comet burst across the skies in 1910, a little girl made her first appearance in rural Chillicothe.

Chillicothe still favorite place to live

Just as Haley’s Comet burst across the skies in 1910, a little girl made her first appearance in rural Chillicothe.

President William Howard Taft, No. 27, occupied the White House. That means Irene Zimmerman, who celebrated her 100th birthday March 16, has lived to see 18 United States presidents.
Zimmerman was the fourth child of Marshall County residents Charles and Pearl (McLaughlin) Donath.

The oldest was Leland, followed by Mary, Glen, Zimmerman, Dorothy and Geraldine.

With a century of living under her belt, Zimmerman remains active in town and a friend to many.

In fact, she got the first dozen Rescue 33 doughnuts made delivered to her home personally by Rescue 33 president Ron Hedden Thursday.

“I love Chillicothe,” said Zimmerman. “I wouldn’t live anywhere else. And Rescue 33 is one of the most fabulous things.”

Country life
A farm family, the Donaths eventually moved to Lawn Ridge before finally settling in Chillicothe when Zimmerman was age 6.

“I remember I had just started to school in Lawn Ridge and I knew we were moving to Chillicothe,” said Zimmerman.

“I played sick one day when my mother had to go to town, and, of course, she had to bring me with her. While we were in town, she had my picture taken and told me not to tell anyone about it.”

But, being 6 years old, Zimmerman was almost bursting at the seams with the news when the pictures came in the mail.

“I blurted it out. I guess I couldn’t keep it any longer,” she said.

“I went to school where Pearce Community Center is now until I was in sixth grade,” said Zimmerman. “Then we moved on the north side of the railroad tracks, and I went one year to Senachwine School.”

She was only 8 years old when World War I ended. She also remembered walking to school with two girls who were always at each other’s throats.

“They used to fight all the time,” said Zimmerman. “But I never fought, I just walked along with them.”

Saturday nights beckoned rural families to Chillicothe, where Zimmerman said she would get maybe 10 cents for ice cream and walk the downtown streets with all the other children.

Sometimes, families would come to see a movie or just sit in their cars and visit with other people.

Zimmerman, a good student, said she finished eighth grade at a school then located on Hardscrabble Road.

During the polio scare one winter, that fear and the cold weather closed the schools for a while.

“They tested you, and they ran things up your nose to be tested. The doctors came to the school,” she remembered.

As part of a farm family, Zimmerman found the rigors of day-to-day work kept her from attending high school.

“I never got to go to high school because my father was a farmer and all he had was a team of horses and a wagon,” said Zimmerman. “We didn’t have very much. My father gardened, and we raised chickens, hogs and eventually milk cows.”

Milking alone consumed many hours each day, but Zimmerman never overcame her fear of cows.

“When I was about 16, I helped my mother get the milk and separate the milk and the cream,” she said. “Then I delivered the milk. I worked in town at the creamery, and I had to test the milk when the farmers brought it in. Then it went to some other place to make it better.”

Zimmerman, however, never warmed up to the bovines who supplied the milk.

“I never was a farm girl,” she said. “I was always afraid of cows and everything. If I went after the cows, I stayed far away from them. I never wanted to live on the farm. I never liked the country.”

She also worked at A&P grocery store for a while, then ended up at Kroger in downtown Chillicothe, where River Valley Residence is now. There she worked in the general store, as well as the meat market.

As time rolled by, the Donaths purchased a Ford vehicle, and Dorothy took driving lessons.

“Dad wasn’t going to drive,” said Zimmerman. “One time, my mother drove my cousin to Peoria, and when we left, she couldn’t get the car away from the curbing.

“I’d never driven, but she let me drive, and I drove her home. I drove from then on. You didn’t have to have a license. That was when the downtown streets were still brick.

Coming to town
One day, a young man stopped by her family’s house and Zimmerman met him in the yard.

“He was about five years older than I was,” Zimmerman said about her future husband, Ed Zimmerman.

On Nov. 5, 1927, the couple took their vows in front of a justice of the peace in Princeton. Zimmerman was 17 years old.

They set up housekeeping in the home they built in 1935 on Fourth Street, the same home where Zimmerman still lives.

While Ed had a good job at Caterpillar Tractor Co., the Great Depression started in 1929, wreaking severe conditions on the Western world.

At one point during the 10 years of the Depression, Ed lost his job.

“He was off a year, but we never asked for any help,” said Zimmerman. “He worked for Walt Seringer’s garage, and I worked for the wife of a guy who dredged the Illinois River, the only time it was ever dredged.”

Zimmerman cleaned and cooked for the family, whose children were in school during the day.

As a couple, the Zimmermans had decided not to have children. Ed had already had his fill of taking care of his younger siblings when he was a child.

Ed also had a mechanical knack for repairing most anything.

“The Truitt kids loved Ed because he could fix all their motors and stuff,” said Zimmerman.

The Zimmermans built their garage house, “because Ed always wanted a garage where he could work on metal projects,” Zimmerman said.

“We just kept adding onto the house. After Ed died, I had the big room and the porch added on. I remember Barb Truitt said one time when she retired, she was going to come live with Ed in the garage. She was always there with something to be fixed.”

During the early years of their marriage, the Zimmermans attended the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933.

“That was one of the greatest things when I walked down the avenue of flags at the Chicago World’s Fair,” said Zimmerman.

Once the Depression ended, Ed said he would never be in a financial situation like that again, and he faithfully saved throughout his life.

“I worked, but I never had to turn over a penny to him,” said Zimmerman. “It went for doctor bills and groceries, etc. I could leave my money laying around and he’d never touch it. I’d buy things, and he didn’t care.

Once in her early 60s, Zimmerman retired.

Ed died in August 1978, and his garage is now just another room in the house.

Words of wisdom
The world has continued to change tremendously since 1910.

A college graduate then earned about $750 a year, and gas was 7 cents a gallon.

In fact, $1 in 1910 now equates to about $20 in spending power.

Zimmerman finds herself living comfortably today, with her great-nephew, Mike Bornsheuer, handling all her finances.

Her great-niece, Sharon McCaw, takes her grocery shopping, and even her neighbors lend valuable hands if she needs them.

Rick Coffey built on her extra room. Rob Lee puts gas in her car and keeps it waxed before winter.
He even brings hand-picked berries to share with her, as well as gifts.

Dick Jones is also considered a wonderful neighbor.

“He couldn’t be any better,” she said. “If I need anything, I call him and he’ll be here for me.

“My nieces and nephews and great-nieces and nephews are all wonderful to me, and all my neighbors are wonderful.”

Zimmerman said she exercises every night before she goes to bed, and she sometimes gets out and walks.

“It keeps my legs and feet a goin,’” she said. “You can’t just sit down and say you don’t feel good. You have to do something about it.”

She does have help with cleaning, but she does her own laundry and cooking.

“Patty Brockhouse stops by every morning to check on me, and my great-nephew Mike Bornsheuer stops by every Saturday and Sunday morning.

“My niece Mary Lee Bliss brings me food sometimes.

While she was at Heritage Manor Nursing Home once last year, she lost considerable weight. She started drinking Ensure, and now faithfully gulps it down at 10:30 a.m. each day.

She uses a walker when she goes out, but seldom around the house.

“Half the time, I don’t know where it is,” she said with a laugh.

Since she has diabetes, she has given up all sugar, and, as for life in general, she has no regrets.

“I’d like my life about the same way it always was,” said Zimmerman. “We had a lot of good times as the years went on and went a lot of places.”

She prefers to spend her time now reading a book and not fretting over life.

“One of the secrets to a good, long life is, I don’t worry,” she said. “People worry a lot. But I don’t have anything to worry about anymore.”

She finds television “rotten,” and usually watches only news and the weather, as well as reading the newspaper.

“A lot of our good entertainers are gone,” Zimmerman said. “A lot of this younger generation, maybe they think it’s good, but I think it’s terrible.”

As for computers, “I don’t have one and I never expect to have one,” she said.

“When we were kids, we used to go out and run around the pasture for entertainment. Nowadays, kids have everything handed to them.”

Not long ago, she purchased a new bedroom outfit, just because she wanted one, adding one more comfort to the place she has called home for so many years.

“I figured if I ever got laid up in bed, at least I’d have something nice to look at,” said Zimmerman.

“Last year when I was in the nursing home, I said it was my last time coming here. I was gonna stay at home. If I die, then I’ll die at home. And I’m still here.”