By CELESTE BAUMGARTNER
JACKSONBURG, Ohio — Fearn Gerber has enjoyed a good, long life. Born on Nov. 12, 1912, in Mowrystown, Ohio, she recently celebrated her 107th birthday. Gerber lives by herself on the family farm; she cooks her own meals. Family members frequently check in on her.
Fearn and Fred were married for 55 years. He died in 1988. They had three children: Patricia (Simmons), Kenneth, and Jerry, who died last June. She has 12 grandchildren, 27 great-grandchildren, and 18 great-greats.
“Farming and living in the country has been a great part of my life,” Fearne said. “I was always following my dad (H. Lee Winkle) around. I can remember he used one horse in the garden to pull a plow. When I was just three or four, he would put me up there, hand me a strap, and I thought I was driving the horse.”
Just a few years later, her dad allowed Fearn to cultivate with the horses. She was proud of that.
“I was 11 or 12, and I was cultivating corn back of the woods,” Gerber said. “I drove a team of horses. When I got through, I would get the horses over to a fence post and crawl onto the horses. I would ride that team a mile to the barn.”
She milked the registered Jersey cows and would ride on the sideboard of her dad’s Model T to deliver the milk. She took the milk to the front porch and brought back the empties.
“Grandma delivered (to each customer) a pint of milk each day,” said her granddaughter, Rita Beiser. “Customers paid 35 cents for the week.”
Beiser looks in on her grandmother every day, frequently bringing Fearn’s great-great- granddaughter, Evelyn, along.
The registered Jersey cattle were just one example of Winkle’s forward-thinking. He was one of the first in the area to have Poland China hogs, said Pat Simmons. He also rotated crops. “We’re talking the early part of the 1900s,” she said.
“My dad was always looking for something ahead,” Fearn said. “He was one of the first ones who planted soybeans. Only when they planted them in those days, they used them for hay.”
That hay was scratchy.
“Mother learned to sew early,” Simmons said. “When she was 12 or 13 she made herself some long pants to wear out in the fields because when you were messing around with hay, your legs got scratched up!”
As part of that forward-thinking, Fearn’s parents wanted her and her brother, Wayne, to attend college. Fearn liked math; she was going to take a business course.
“My brother came home and said, ‘Fearn, if you take that you’ll come out a dime a dozen, just a secretary,’” Fearn said. “He said that Miami University has started a new special class that will graduate you in two years and you can teach and that’s what you should do.”
One of the things Simmons said she is most proud of is two letters she found that Miami University officials wrote to her grandparents in 1931 and 1932. The letters congratulated the Winkles because their daughter was one of two out of 1000 students in Miami who got all A’s.
It was while at Miami University that she met Fred. She had to work to help pay for her education. As a bellhop, she alerted the girls in the dorm when they had a visitor. One day a young man called and asked if some of the girls would like to go walking. They did. Fred was on the walk, but not with Fearn. The next day, however, she and Fred played tennis; the spark ignited.
The day after Fred graduated with an engineering degree, they decided to get married. Married women could not teach. That would be taking jobs away from men. So they secretly wed on June 12, 1933 in Brookville, Ind.
For a time, they stayed with a relative, who moved them into separate rooms with twin beds. “They didn’t know we were going to sleep in the one bed,” Fearn said.
Fred went to work at Armco, where he would stay until he retired. They eventually moved to Middletown, and their children were born there. The farm where Fearn lives now became available. They bought it and moved into the farmhouse.
“I said I would not milk the cows,” Fearn said. “I’d milked cows at home. But I did take care of the milk.”
Simmons was 15 when the family moved and not too happy about moving to a farm. ”I avoided it,” she said. She finished high school in Middletown and now lives in Washington, D.C.
“They bought this farm in about 1959 when Jerry was 14 and Kenny was 10. The two boys did the farming. My dad worked at Armco. Jerry took care of the farm and managed it. Kenny worked with him for a while.”
Eventually, Kenny became an engineer. He now lives in Wilmington. Jerry married Cleo Steiner. He built a house on a corner of the farm for Fearn and Fred, and he moved into the farmhouse. Fred retired shortly after.
Later, when Fred moved to Garden Manor, where he lived for 15 years, Fearn visited him daily.
She joined First Presbyterian Church on March 25, 1948, taught Sunday School and sang in the choir for more than 50 years, she told the Journal-News. She was the first woman to be elected an Elder in the church.
Photos Celeste B.
Fearn Gerber recently celebrated her 107th birthday. Here surrounded by her great-great-granddaughter, Evelyn Beiser, granddaughter, Rita Beiser, and daughter, Pat Simmons.
Fearn Gerber recently celebrated her 107th birthday. Farming and living in the country has been a great part of her life, she said. On her left is her granddaughter, Rita Beiser, and on her right, her daughter, Pat Simmons.