Wilma Duke will celebrate 102 years this November.
She celebrated her 100th birthday in 2019. Duke was born in Flat Iron Point, Iowa, during a terrible blizzard.
“It was out in the country,” she said. “They could hear Dr. Weaver coming for miles. He was in a sleigh. The snow was so deep and frozen so hard that he and the horses came cross country. It was so cold when they got there. You can’t imagine a farmhouse with a stove and kerosene lamps and a woman in labor. They brought the doctor and sat him in the chair. Grandma had to thaw him out, while his horses were brought to the barn and wrapped with every horse blanket you could find. The doctor was snowed in from the storm for three days before he could get back into town.”
Duke remembers working as a floorwalker with seven other girls at a Kriskeys store. They asked her to come to a dance at a ballroom, but she didn’t want to go. It was there, however, she met her husband, Milo.
“Milo asked me to dance and I said, ‘No,’” she said. “The look on his face just hit me and I said, ‘Alright, I’ll dance with you.’ We got about two steps on the floor and he told me, ‘I’ve got a brand new car and it’s all paid for.’ I thought, ‘Ok, you’re just a bragger.’ He was a good dancer, though, and I think we both decided he was by the time we got around the dance floor.”
The next day, Duke went home on the bus and when she got there, Milo was waiting there for her.
“I never got away from him after that,” she said. “He made a 70 mile trip to see his grandmother. He had bought himself a rose gold wristwatch and he bought one for her. They couldn’t figure out why he was so anxious to get back on the road going home.”
Duke lived in Davenport, Iowa, at the time. They met the first part of March and married in June 15, 1951. Milo worked for 32 years for John Deere as a machine operator and was a U.S. Army veteran of World War II.
“I’ll say he was the most handsome soldier I’ve ever met,” she said. “He was a really good man.”
Duke remembers listening to Lawrence Welk, an American musician and bandleader, who also hosted the television program, The Lawrence Welk Show. Every time he would come to town, Duke said he would dedicate a song to her and Milo.
“I’ve danced a few steps with Lawrence Welk,” she said. “The last time we were there, I remember Lawrence got down the steps and started talking to us. Milo had been overseas a long time, so when that first note hit, he was dancing. Lawrence knew this and when he saw us he’d be ready to play that song. We weren’t getting married until the next day and no one was supposed to know about it. Milo made the mistake of saying something and Lawrence said, ‘Oh, I’m going to play a song and say your name.’ I told him, ‘Don’t you dare.’ Lawrence didn’t make an announcement, but he did play the song that we liked. That was the last time we saw him.”
Duke said her family has experience in the military. Her daughter was stationed in Germany for Christmas one year and Duke received a plane ticket to travel there. Before they left, Duke said they came there on a military transport. They were told they would have to fly north to skirt a big storm.
“We went over Labrador in the middle of the night,” said Duke. “Those were probably one of the most beautiful sights you looked down on. It looked like a frozen glass and little pinpoints of lights scattered on this one edge of the island. Those were streetlights. It was really beautiful.”
When they moved to Marshfield, Missouri, Duke said a tornado came through the town a few years later.
“Milo had only been back a year or so from that and this tornado went through,” she said. “I remember people saying ‘Get down, get down.’ I did get hit in the back of the head and split my head open. They didn’t think I would make it, but they got me to Cox Health in time. They stitched my head. It was quite an experience.”
From her family’s love for toy model trains to other stories, Duke said, “I’m thankful for the life I’ve had and there’s so many people who have helped me. I wish I could thank them all, but I’m truly grateful.”