Bridgeport woman celebrates 100

Dorothy Rae Lewis celebrates her 100th birthday March 13 at her home in Bridgeport. (Provided photo/Ron Lewis)

 

By Adrienne Douke
Empire Press Correspondent

Dorothy Rae Lewis celebrated her 100th birthday March 13 with family and friends at her home in Bridgeport.

Lewis was born in 1916 and grew up on top of Dyer Hill, three miles due east of present day Wells Dam.

Longevity runs in the family. “My mama lived to be 101 and my papa was 95,” Lewis said.

Lewis and her family survived the Great Depression with grit and spirit. “We worked hard, ate well, didn’t drink or smoke and we didn’t get sick,” she said.

She remembers bartering between families. “We would barter beef for peaches, wheat for apricots plus more, and we all ate well.”

Lewis remembers working hard and sleeping about four hours a night. “Our days began at 4 a.m. — spring, summer and fall — and ended around midnight,” she recalled. Lewis became fond of saying, “Get back to work… there will be plenty of time to sleep when you are dead.”

She does not refer to these times as “good old days.”

“In the winter we got eight hours of sleep because of the early darkness,” Lewis noted.

Winters on Dyer Hill were long, dark and cold. “We slept upstairs, no insulation in those days. It was really cold. But we had our hot iron that we’d heat on the wood stove before bed and put that iron down by our feet to stay warm all night. We also had a glass of water on the bed stand because we got thirsty during the night.”

Tough resilience and resourcefulness were the hallmark of Lewis’ generation, and she remembers how her “papa” Bert Baumgardner dug an 18-foot well by hand to provide water for the livestock. Theirs was the highest house in Douglas County, located at the top of Dyer Hill. “We were on top of the hill, but always had a large pond. Papa hand-dug an 18-foot deep well next to the pond and installed a hand pump on it, so when the pond got low, us kids would have to pump the water by hand,” Lewis recalls. “That old well never ran out of water and is still there today,” Lewis added.

“That was our secondary source of water. The primary source was a 110-foot deep, hand-turned well which had a 15-foot tall windmill on top. When the wind would blow, the windmill would spin and draw the water up from the well. When the wind didn’t blow, water did not flow.”

The supply hose was always left on the porch in the water barrel which the family used for cooking, cleaning and the rare bath. When the wind would blow enough for the windmill to spin, a bell would alert the Baumgardners that water was flowing.

After the indoor barrel was filled up, then the supply hose had to be moved by hand to the garden during growing season, and also to fill the water tanks for all the livestock.

“When the bell began to ding, it was time to get to work, even if it was two or three o’clock in the morning. It was especially important to take the hose out of the barrel in the house once it was full, otherwise it would overflow in the house, then we’d have a mess to clean up,” Lewis recalls.

Sharing necessities like water was a way of life in those days. As a child, Lewis remembers looking out the window of her house and seeing a long line of animals and people. “Our dad would not ever turn anyone away and pump water for whoever was thirsty, even when times were dry. He always shared the water we had from that well. I think pumping it like that helped to keep the water flowing.”

Since 1973, Lewis and her family have farmed dryland wheat on Dyer Hill and continue doing so to this day. Lewis drove combine for 11 years from 1979-1990 and during the whole course of her farming career only picked up two rocks. She brought those two rocks home and painted “turn me over” on each side, so when a person turned the rock over, it said “turn me over” (again) and the person was therefore tricked by the same rock that tricked Lewis in her combine.

Over the years, Lewis and her husband Ken traveled to 32 foreign countries on agriculture tours to see how farming was done in other lands. Ken passed away in 1998.

Lewis continues to live in her Bridgeport home, where she is cared for by her youngest son Ron and his wife Joy.

Lewis said her secret to a long and happy life is, “Work hard, be honest, don’t drink and don’t smoke, and take good care of your family.”

 

Dorothy Rae Lewis drives a combine during the the 1980s. (Provided photo/Ron Lewis)

Dorothy Rae Lewis drives a combine during the the 1980s. (Provided photo/Ron Lewis)