Margaret Neifer turns 100 with a lot of spunk and stories

Margaret Neifer holds a scrapbook of old photos in her Bowling Green home.

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN

BG Independent News

 

When Margaret Neifer turns 100 on Wednesday, she will be bucking the odds.

“I eat too many sweets. I use too much salt,” said Mrs. Neifer, a retired teacher living in Bowling Green. “I don’t drink enough water. I’ve never been a health nut.”

She had a rocky start to her life. Growing up in East Toledo, Margaret had frequent bouts of pneumonia. The front door of her home was often posted with warnings of contagious illnesses. Yellow for chicken pox. Red for scarlet fever. Another color for measles.

“I got them all,” she said.

For much of the first six years of her life, Margaret would sit inside and play on her windowsill with her friends outside the window.

But those early illnesses must have toughened her for later in life. One day shy of 100, and she has the health that many half her age would envy. She takes no medication, lives in her home with Tilly the cat, takes care of herself, writes her own checks, keeps up on current events, and can carry on conversations for hours  – seriously.

“She does have a cane. However, she carries it rather than using it,” said her son Don Neifer, who lives in Bowling Green.

“I have been blessed with good health,” as an adult, Mrs. Neifer said. “I see the doctor next week. He is always worried about my legs holding me up.”

Mrs. Neifer wasn’t the only one in her family to struggle with health issues. Her father, a draftsman who built elegant winding staircases for wealthy Toledo families, came down with tuberculosis when Margaret was in high school.

“Tuberculosis was rampant in this part of the country,” she said. “He had been in bed for about a year with no progress.”

So as soon as Margaret graduated from high school, the family drove the Model A with a trailer out to a sanitarium in San Antonio, Texas.

“Back then, you did what you could with what you had,” she said. Margaret, her mother and a cousin drove the long journey. “She wasn’t very big, but she was gutsy,” she said of her mom.

Her father recovered, the family returned to Toledo, and Margaret started studying at Bowling Green State University to become a teacher. She went on to teach for 27 years – in several different locations, but always first and second grades.

“We always kid her that she wasn’t smart enough to get out of the low grades,” Don Neifer said, smiling.

Her first job was at Lime City School. “That was the happiest place I ever taught,” she said.

Getting the job required her to interview with each board member. And since they were all farmers and it was harvest season, she met with each out in their fields.

“I traveled the fields along Route 20,” she said.

It was at that school where she taught former Wood County Commissioner Alvie Perkins.

“He always said she was the best first grade teacher he ever had – as if he had many,” Don Neifer said.

Teaching was tough back then, with hard coal being used to heat the classrooms. But it was also a time when teachers were allowed to hug their students when they needed it, Mrs. Neifer said.

“It’s my favorite memory. I can name every child in that first class,” she said.

And it was a time when teachers who got married were dismissed from their jobs. “If you married, you lost your job just like that,” Mrs. Neifer said snapping her fingers. “Teachers were a dime a dozen.”

Margaret had met a young man while going to BGSU, when she lived and ate meals at a home across from the county courthouse in Bowling Green. “His mom fed students,” she said of Carl Neifer, whom she would marry a few years later.

A friend told Margaret that Carl would really like her to be interested in dating him.

“I wasn’t,” Mrs. Neifer recalled.

It was not a whirlwind romance, but more like a slow steady courtship that grew over two years.

“It wasn’t love at first sight. It was love at hindsight,” Mrs. Neifer said with a smile.

When they finally got married, she was an “old maid,” at age 24.

While getting married could have been the end of her teaching career, something else was looming that would change that old standard.

“The last years of my teaching, there was the rumbling of war coming along,” Mrs. Neifer said.

Once World War II was underway, her husband who was older and raised cash crops was excused to continue his work. “Food was so important,” she said.

And teachers were in now demand, regardless of their marital status. Mrs. Neifer taught for three years in Rudolph, then another three in Milton Center.

“That guy literally got on his knees to get me to come,” the day before school was scheduled to start in Milton Center, she said.

Mrs. Neifer went on to teach in Neapolis and then wrapped up her career at Weston Elementary before retiring in 1977.

In between, she raised two sons – Don of BG, and David of Grand Rapids, Michigan – and has three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Though she has definitely slowed down, Mrs. Neifer still has a lot on her schedule.

“She’s very social. She keeps up with what is going on in the world,” Don said. “She goes out to lunch and has more of a social life than I do.”

In her later years, Mrs. Neifer attended classes at the senior center to learn to paint with watercolors, many which she gave away or sold.

“I love to read, I love to quilt, but my eyes aren’t helping me,” she said. “I’m not much of a TV watcher to any extent.”

“I go to church almost every Sunday,” at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Bowling Green. And she frequently visited old friends at nursing homes with a basket of custard or other goodies.

“I’m not a sitter,” she said.

Mrs. Neifer stopped driving at age 96.

“That was the worst thing that happened to me,” she said. Though people offer her rides, “how do you call someone if you want a yard of ribbon?”

So now Mrs. Neifer stays in contact with old friends over the phone – for hours.

“I’m outliving all these people. This is kind of the sad part about being 100.”

It’s not that Mrs. Neifer lives in the past. “I don’t think I talk old times,” she said, looking at her son for confirmation.

“No you don’t. You keep up with today,” he said.

“I don’t like to speak for her,” Don said, since his mom is very capable of speaking for herself.

“How much longer do you have,” Mrs. Neifer asked with a grin.

A celebration of Mrs. Neifer’s 100 years is planned for Sept. 10, with an open house from 2 to 4 p.m., at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Bowling Green.

The open house will give former students and current friends a chance to catch up with the former teacher.

“I’m afraid no one with come,” Mrs. Neifer said.

Doubtful. And this time around, she’s likely to get some hugs back from old students.

print