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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Living life to the fullest ... Dorothy Wagner turns 104

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Pictured above is Dorothy Wagner at the age of 23 in her flapper attire -- bobbed hair, dancing dress and flapper high-heeled shoes. Dorothy said she made the dress she is wearing in the picture from chiffon and put silver lining on the skirt.
It was the time of prohibition when gangsters like Al Capone and Bonnie and Clyde ruled the town. Women bobbed their hair, smoked and wore clothes that their Victorian parents would shake their heads at. Dorothy Wagner, 104, of Horseshoe Bend, remembers what it was like back in the Roaring '20s around Chicago, Ill., when she was a footloose and fancy free flapper.

Dorothy was born in Centrailia, Ill., Sept. 2, 1904. Though the memories are a long way away, she can still remember the day of her grandfather's funeral when she was about 3-years-old. "I remember it because we were in the church and I was sitting on a hard bench," Dorothy said. "When I turned around, I saw my father's face, and there were just tears running down. Isn't that the most awful thing?"

Dorothy said her grandfather would weave baskets. She still has a couple of them sitting by her fireplace at home full of knick-knacks. The baskets at one time would carry potatoes and other vegetables, Wagner said. Like Wagner, they have been sturdy for over 100 years.

Above is Dorothy and her older brother Louie.
In her teens and early 20s, growing up around the Chicago area, Dorothy was what was called a flapper girl. "The reason why they called us flappers was we wore overshoes that would clasp at the ankles and we'd leave the clasps open," Dorothy said. "They'd go flap, flap, flap. Oh, it was fun."

Dorothy would play golf, bridge and dance in her younger days. But, lately, she has been able to get back into her jumping and jiving dancing (with very little jumping). She said she dances every now and then at the Senior Citizens Center. Dorothy said several of her partners asked her if she wanted to sit down and rest, but she refused to. "The music is what keeps you going. I just love it," Dorothy said.

Dorothy once had a boyfriend during those wild times in the 1920s who would always have friends and relatives over at his family's lake house. "There was always a party," Dorothy said. "I can't think of a boring minute."

Dorothy was born in 1904. Before the 1920s, the old-fashioned strict Victorian look was in style. Pictured above is Dorothy's family. From left to right are Dorothy (4), Eddie (Dorothy's father), Louie (8), Nellie (Dorothy's mother) and Irma (2).
Sometimes, Dorothy and her friends would drive about 50 miles to the town of Cairo, or Little Egypt, Ill. Dorothy said the town was on the Mississippi River. "We'd all sit on the bank and watch all the boats go by," Dorothy said. "It was just a treat to ride in a car back then."

Dorothy explained with enthusiasm how people were able to get liquor during the prohibition. People would go to what was called Speakeasies. They were little back alley houses where liquor was illegally served. "People would go up to the door and say, 'George sent me,' and a peephole would open up and they'd let you in. Of course, my husband would always say, 'Joe sent me,' instead. He got a kick out of it. And they'd serve liquor in coffee cups, just in case they got busted -- we were all drinking coffee. Oh, it was so much fun," Dorothy said. "It's fun to think back on it. But we didn't realize back then that it was wrong. At the time, it was just living."

"Farmers in the country would sell off their acreage to gangsters," Dorothy said. The gangsters would then make clubs or dancing halls where people could drink and enjoy themselves out of the outbuildings on the farm, Dorothy said.

Pictured above is Dorothy at the age of 104. She said she loves looking back at the times of her youth. Photo by Emily McIntosh
Though Dorothy never met any gangsters, she said whenever they went to a party and they didn't know who was hosting it, somebody else always knew it was a known gangster throwing the party and providing the liquor. "Al Capone owned most of the places," Dorothy said. "I read about (gangsters) all the time in the newspaper. We once lived near the theater where Bonnie and Clyde were caught."

Dorothy also remembers the time when Leopold and Lobe made headlines. She said the two gangsters killed a 14-year-old boy and stuffed his body in a storm drain. "They did it just for the thrill," Dorothy said in disgust. Clarence Darrow was the lawyer who defended Scopes in the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial on teaching evolution in schools. Darrow also defended Leopold and Lobe on the basis that the death penalty was too harsh and that a jury couldn't be found that would see the two as being innocent.

It was during the mid to late 1920s that Dorothy was training to be a nurse. She said she wanted to be a nurse in the Air Service (known as the Air Corps in 1926; it wasn't until the early 1940s that it was called the Air Force). "My husband didn't want that," Dorothy said.

In 1928, about a year after she completed her nurse's training, she married Howard Wagner. Howard joined the Navy at the age of 38. "They called them the SeaBees back then. What they'd do is they'd get carpenters and plumbers and others with jobs like that -- Howard was a plumber -- and they'd draft them into the Navy," Dorothy said. When Howard was stationed in Russia, he developed skin cancer and had to be held back from deployment. Dorothy said her husband was disappointed that he didn't get to go with his friends. "But we had a 12-year-old son at the time. He didn't need to go," Dorothy said.

When the Great Depression hit in the 1930s, people couldn't afford nurses, so Dorothy stayed at home and worked as a beautician. "I've always cut my own hair," Dorothy said. It seems she has always kept her hair cut short in an almost 1920s fashion.

About 10 years after Howard died in 1983, Dorothy married Gordon Bush. "I thought I'd never marry again after Howard died," Dorothy said. Dorothy knew Gordon for several years as a good friend. Gordon and Dorothy were married for 10 years until his death.

Dorothy also seems to be a very stylish woman. "We'd always dress up to go to the Loop," Dorothy said. For those who are unfamiliar with Chicago, the Loop is in the downtown area. "They called it the Loop because there was an elevated train that loops around there," Dorothy said.

There are various hats of all different eras displayed on the wall of her bedroom and on another wall in the hallway entrance to her house. Each unique hat, from her nurse's cap to fur winter hats to her Red Hat Lady hats, represents a piece of time. "I need to give this to a museum," she said as she pulled out an auburn fur hat with a glittering pin stuck in it.

Dorothy and Howard moved to Horseshoe Bend from Champagne, Ill., in 1968. Dorothy lived in a travel trailer as the house was being built. "I designed this house. My husband just let me loose," Dorothy said. Though the house looks simple from the outside, the inside is not what anyone would expect. It is a spacious house with an open floor plan. Where one would expect stairs leading up from the entrance, there is an iron staircase going down into a den. In the front yard of the house there is a little stone wishing well. "It was the first thing my husband and I built when we got here," Dorothy said.

Though the days of the Roaring '20s and Gertrude Stein's Lost Generation are over, Dorothy still has fun. She has been involved in the Red Hat Club in Cherokee Village for about six years. She was the oldest Red-Hatter in the state and she said she unexpectedly won third place at a 101-and-a-half-years young competition. "As I was going up to the stage, people were yelling, 'Go grandma,'" Dorothy said. She has also attained the distinguished honor of Ms. Hattitudinality among her Red Hat lady friends.

Dorothy said she gets plenty of questions about her age. When she was 25, she had her first son. Then when she was 43, she had her second. "When people ask me if I have any kids, I say, 'No, but I have two old men,'" Dorothy said.

Dorothy was inspired to write a poem about her age. Her friend Teresa Bailey typed it for her. The following is her poem:

"It's my birthday!
Every living soul has them.
Growing up was fun and games.
Remember the Flappers?!
Teenage more fun and romance.
At 19, off to the City
to attain my R.N. -- great years!
More romance.
What a time to be alive.
Having a 'Steady' all through training.
Engagement and marriage in '28, same guy.
1930 Kenny Boy came along.
Depression hit us, just before.
I well remember time long past.
And how our days just didn't last.
Good times enjoyed, the bad brought tears.
Try now to recall the happy years.
All memories may fade, away.
But I'm reminded to just say.
(Before my thoughts became a bore)
Today is year 2008.
And I am 104!"

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Ms.Dorthy Wagner is my good friend. She was 109 September the second last year. You need to change it now to 109. She is still doing good.

-- Posted by LeonardBurrow on Wed, Jan 1, 2014, at 10:49 AM

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