Delora Ehlinger: Countdown to 100
By DAVID GREEN
With three in their 90s, two in their 80s and one at age 78, you might say that the Fletchers make up a long-lived family.
Actually, next week at this time there will be only two remaining in their tenth decade because the eldest of the clan will turn 100.
“Grandma and Grandpa Fletcher were both in their 90s when they died,” Delora said. “I also had an aunt on my mother’s side who lived past 99. She was 100 and one day when she died.”
There were seven Fletcher kids in all. They were all alive and kicking until two years ago when George died at age 94.
Delora, a resident at Charles Fay Village in Morenci, is 99. Russel, 97, and Sarah Johnson, 93, live at York Hills Apartments. Elwood, soon to be 89, lives in Adrian, and Rex, 88, moved to Florida several years ago. The baby of the family, Iola Jean, 78, is a Muskegon resident.
“I grew up in Jasper, Michigan,” Delora said. “My aunt had a farm on Mulberry Road near Morenci and she talked my father into moving there.”
Living on the farm without a car, the Fletcher kids depended on each other for entertainment.
“We had a lot of fun,” says Sarah, “but we made our own fun.”
Russel remembers a merry-go-round their father created.
“Dad put a post out in the yard and bored a hole through a plank. One of us would have to push,” he said. “In those days, you didn’t have a lot of junk to play with. You made up your own pleasure, and that was often mischief.
“Sometimes we had to cut our own switch off the pear tree. Mother would punish us, but she never really hurt us.”
Many times the girls would come out and rough it with the boys, he remembers.
“I was the oldest and I was the boss,” Delora said.
“She thought she was the boss,” Russel adds. “That hasn’t changed a bit.”
Delora’s favorite story about the boys is how Russel would say “Let’s fight” to his brother, George. George would get three punches in before Russel got his fists up.
“We always got along just great, all of us,” Delora said.
“We never had many problems,” Sarah agreed. “Our nieces and nephews called us the Magnificent Seven.”
The Fletchers had no car during Delora’s school days. She and Sarah often stayed with an aunt in town until they used horse power.
“When I went to school, we drove the horse and buggy,” Russel said. “We’d park in the barn behind the Methodist Church and walk the rest of the way.”
When Delora graduated in 1924, the family bought its first automobile and Russel drove that occasionally.
Mart Swaney, owner of the Ford garage in town, came to the high school one day looking to hire a secretary. The principal said to go get Delora. She was soon working evenings and Saturdays. She continued after graduation, first as a cashier and then as a bookkeeper. She started out earning $7 a week.
“I moved to Flint for a year, but I came back,” she said.
Later she worked at the Yoder garage, but she didn’t get along all that well with the owner.
“He kept telling me that he couldn’t pay me that much money so I told him I would stop working Saturdays. I had him there.”
Eventually, she had a different answer.
“You won’t have to worry about it after Saturday,” she said one week.
That’s because Morenci mayor Charlie Fink hired her to serve as city treasurer in 1963.
Russel was farming when he first married, but later worked for Consumers Power, from 1929 to 1944. He was earning $1.21 an hour when he quit—not a bad wage for those times.
“The first big mistake I made was when I quit Consumers to go into business for myself,” Russel said.
He opened an appliance store in Morenci, but he spent his final working years at Adrian’s Stubnitz and Greene.
George worked with Russel in the store for a while before taking a factory job in Detroit. He retired from Tecumseh Products.
George survived an early brush with death, or at lease avoided serious injury, when he fell from a roof. But Herman Chittenden was down below, and the big man caught George and broke the fall.
Sarah describes her life as a housewife raising five children, but she also put in 20 years at Morenci Home Telephone Company, first as an operator and later in the office. Sarah was paid 76 cents an hour, with an annual increase of two cents.
She remembers her first check after the workers had joined a union.
“I think there’s a mistake on my check,” she told company president Don Carlson.
Don studied it a while, looked through a document and determined there was no error.
“Well, that’s the most I ever paid a woman,” he said.
Elwood did “a little of everything” during his career. He left high school early to study artificial insemination. He later had a bus route in Adrian and retired from the Catholic home.
Rex served as a carpenter and builder all of his life. He discovered that he liked to pound nails at a young age.
“He liked to pound, over and over,” Russel said. “He’s had a hammer in his hand ever since.”
Iola Jean worked for several businesses over her life, and she and her husband once owned their own business in St. Ignace.
Delora, Russel and Sarah all had apartments at York Hills up until a few months ago.
“They booted me out,” says Delora.
Actually, Sarah explained, there were concerns about her living by herself.
“I’d rather be living alone,” Delora said, “but now I don’t have to cook and I don’t have to do dishes.”
“We try to keep her pretty well occupied,” Sarah said. “She has company most every day.”
Delora points out that she’s the oldest living graduate of Morenci High School, but there are a couple others right behind her, Sarah mentions. Ruby Miller will turn 98 in December and Russel will be 98 in January.
The Fletcher kids who stayed behind have witnessed many changes in Morenci over the years. They remember when there were at least three automobile dealers, five groceries, two brick yards, the Gem Theatre (now the Pub) that showed silent films, the hotel on the corner with the tavern down below and the barbershop above, and Saturday nights.
“Saturday nights used to be a good time,” Russel said. “Farmers drove their horse and buggy to town and the sidewalks would be filled.”
“I don’t think our dad ever moved the whole time,” Sarah said, remembering how he visited with friends on the weekly trip into town.
Much has changed over the Fletchers’ century, and they’re sure to bring up memories of the old days when Delora and family head for the Village Inn Tuesday for her birthday dinner.
“One hundred years!” she said. “Imagine that!”
“Who knows?” adds Sarah. “She might last another 20.”- Sept. 14, 2005
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