There are two keys to long life, according to Hermine “Erma” Loois Grotenhuis, Gardner.
“Don’t eat cake,” the centenarian said as she nibbled on a small piece of chocolate cake. “And don’t lose your temper.”
The centenarian celebrated her 105th birthday on Jan. 17 at Vintage Park, an assisted living home.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Erma has reached a very rare age. There were 53,364 people who reported being 100-years-old or older in 2010. There were only 626 in Kansas.
During her 105th birthday party, Erma played hostess, introducing old friends to new friends. She ate cake, and visited with grandchildren and her sons, who traveled from Colorado and Virginia to celebrate with her.
When the family hosted a similar party for her 90th birthday in 1999, they thought it might be the last large birthday event for Erma.
“At her 100th birthday, she said, the last 10 years went so fast, I think I’ll go another 10,” her granddaughter Caitlin Michaels of Littleton, Colo., said.
Erma has spent the majority of her life in the U.S., but her story began in Apeldoorn, Holland on Jan. 17, 1909. When she was six-weeks-old, her family moved to Amsterdam, where her parents operated a small grocery store.
Although Holland remained neutral during World War I, Erma’s family didn’t escape the upheaval on the European continent. Her father invested heavily in Russian real estate and Russian bonds that became valueless following the country’s Communist Revolution, and runaway inflation on the continent after World War I, made life difficult for the Loois family.
With little in their pockets, the family emigrated to America on the Rotterdam on April 15, 1924. Erma, 15 years old at the time, recalls her family driving their car to the dock at night and leaving it there for creditors to fight over. According to the passenger manifest, she arrived at Ellis Island in New York on April 24, 1924.
Erma’s uncle in Hospers, Iowa, sponsored her family in the U.S., but they soon moved to Hollandale, Minn. In the largely Dutch community of Hollandale, Erma graduated from high school and met John Grotenhuis. According to a family history, Erma said it was love at first sight.
John and Erma married in 1927. The newlyweds farmed potatoes in Hollandale for about a year, before deciding to make a fresh start in Independence, Kan. With the help of an uncle, Erma and John purchased an 80-acre farm. The first of the duo’s four children, daughter Ikey, in 1929, and son Arnie, in 1931, were born on the original Grotenhuis farm.
The family survived the Great Depression without hunger. According to a family narrative, John could grow anything, and his garden thrived.
They farmed without electricity or freezers, gathered water from a hand pump, and canned beef pork and vegetables in an underground cellar. Living space was tight, however, and on the eve of daughter Jonie’s birth, they moved to a 160-acre farm, where they created the Grotenhuis Dairy. Joanie was born in 1935, followed by youngest son, Jack, in 1937.
“We ran a dairy, but she hated milk,” Jack said.
The family milked cows by hand each day and then Erma would deliver raw, fresh milk to customers including the local hospital and grocery store.
They also farmed corn, wheat, oats, alfalfa and soybeans. Initially, they used horse-drawn equipment on the farm, however, they eventually used a steel-wheeled tractor that John had to build a fire beneath to get it warm enough to start.
When the U.S. entered World War II in December of 1941, the family closely followed the war progress on a battery radio. On D-Day, Erma cried when she heard the news that the war would be over soon.
Water and electricity reached the farm shortly after the war ended. By 1945, the family used a gas-powered generator, which would later be replaced by an actual power line; and a hand-buried pipe allowed city water to flow from faucets in the family home.
An electric milking machine made life a little easier, according to a family narrative.
In 1970, John and Erma sold the farm and moved in to town. Eventually, they moved to Gardner to be nearer to Ikey and Arnie. Erma moved into Vintage Park 13 years ago.
She’s lived through 17 presidents, two world wars, women getting the right to vote and the moon landing. However, she said she doesn’t watch the news much anymore.
She’s also lived through the heartbreak of losing many friends and loved ones, including her husband John, and oldest daughter.
Overall, however, the good has outweighed the bad.
Her son agreed.
“She’s just lived a good life,” Jack said.