Hackens recalls a life of faith and hard work as she reaches 100 years
Wed, 07/26/2017 - 9:32am admin
We did without a lot of things. Of course, we did that anyway. We weren’t a wealthy family,” Gerri said.
Despite having seen a century of life through them, Geraldine “Gerri” Hackens’ brown-green eyes still twinkle with humor as she visits with her daughter, Karen, and sister-in-law, Lois, in a comfortable room at the Good Samaritan Society. The three banter about marriage and children as Gerri reminisces about 100 years of living in the New Underwood community.
On Aug. 3, 1917, a baby girl was born to Lucius “Bud” and Ruth (Work) Judson at their home south of Elk Creek, and north of New Underwood. Bud Judson’s parents, Lucius Bud and Mary Jane (Horlocker) Judson, lived on the north side of Elk Creek. Mary Jane was a midwife, so when Ruth realized it was time for her baby to be delivered, her husband, Bud, went to summon his mother to officiate the birth. Bud and Mary Jane arrived to find that Ruth had already had the baby. They named the newborn – their second child, but first daughter – Geraldine Ruth Judson. She soon acquired the nickname “Gerri.”
Bud and Ruth Judson farmed along Elk Creek, raising wheat, oats, and their family. Gerri joined an older brother, LaVerne, and was soon followed by two sisters and a baby brother – Vera, Kathleen and Ralph. Gerri was in her early teens when the Great Depression gained its hold on America. But for this western South Dakota farm girl, the Depression did not make life much more difficult than it already was. “We did without a lot of things. Of course, we did that anyway. We weren’t a wealthy family,” Gerri said.
Gerri remembers being a vital part of the family, and having her own share of responsibilities in the Judson home. “I had to work. I had to milk cows and wash dishes and do everything there was to do,” said Gerri.
Her early years were spent in the company of her siblings. Gerri’s older brother, LaVerne, suffered from an illness and worked hard to keep up with the other boys his age. One of Gerri’s younger sisters, Kathleen, insisted on tagging along with their father, Bud, everywhere he went. Though Gerri and her other siblings suspected this was Kathleen’s ploy to avoid chores, she eventually grew to be a hardworking and ambitious woman, Gerri said.
Gerri does not remember when the family got electricity in their home, but she said the family had a telephone for as far back as she can remember.
When Gerri became old enough to attend school, she went to the Red Top School. Her father, Bud, had also attended Red Top. It would become a family tradition, as Gerri’s children and grandchildren also attended the same school, though not necessarily in the same building. “It was an older building when he [Bud] went, but the older people went to school there before I did,” Gerri said.
Gerri remembers Glee Club and the school programs with particular fondness. She also recalls that birthdays were celebrated at the school with cake shared by all of the students.
After finishing her time at Red Top, Gerri attended high school in New Underwood. Like most of her peers, she lived at home on the weekends, and boarded at the school during the week. Though her parents likely missed her during the week, Gerri humorously proposed the real reason behind the notice of her absence from the home. “Well, I wasn’t there to do the work.”
When Gerri traveled between New Underwood and her home for school, she made good use of the neighbor boy, Veryl Hackens, and his Star automobile. According to Gerri, she and Veryl had known each other their whole lives. Their friendship eventually deepened, and, on Dec. 20, 1936, just months after Gerri had completed high school, the two were married in New Underwood.
Based on friendship, their marriage would stand the test of time, lasting 73 years until death parted the two in 2009, shortly after they celebrated their anniversary. “My husband was just a friend to me,” Gerri said.
Initially, they lived in different old houses in the area, Gerri said, including a house her parents owned on the south side of Elk Creek. When they had been married for one year, and while the Great Depression was still part of every American’s life, Gerri and Veryl headed west to Washington, where Veryl picked fruit and worked on the Grand Coulee Dam for four months. They were home by Christmas, which was cause for celebration for Gerri, a South Dakota girl who had never ventured any great distance from home before then. “I was very young to be away,” Gerri said.
Once home, the couple began ranching and farming north of Viewfield. They began establishing their own place and family as America joined the Allied Forces in battling Germany and Japan in WWII. Again, Gerri and her peers were called on to endure hardship for the sake of the wartime effort. Now, instead of resources being scant because of economic turmoil, rationing caused by the war brought in new challenges.
“During the war, we just had to go without everything, it seems like,” said Gerri. She was quick to assert that, of all the things that were rationed or difficult to procure due to the war, sugar was the thing she most missed.
Undaunted, Gerri and Veryl did what they had to do to make ends meet, including picking up a mail route and carrying the mail from Viewfield as far north as Hay Draw, which was a town that consisted solely of a post office.
Their family began to grow. In 1940, they welcomed their first son, Monty. Donnie, their second son, made his debut in 1945. Gerri and Veryl received a pleasant surprise in 1954 when their daughter, Karen, was born into the family.
According to Gerri, all of her children were good children. “I really enjoyed having Karen, and the boys helped around,” she said.
The family saw a good return on their investment. From those three children, 10 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren have swelled the ranks of the family. The heritage given to the family by Gerri and Veryl is still evident.
According to Karen, her earliest memory of her mother involves her mother working alongside her father in the hayfield. Karen remembers her mother always wearing a dress, having long sleeves, a hat and gloves to protect her skin. “She was always after me to make sure I did that, which I didn’t,” Karen said.
In addition to being a good hand for her husband, Gerri was also enterprising in her own ventures. The family milked and Gerri raised many chickens. Karen recalls helping to gather the eggs, which were marketed in Rapid City at the Bean Bag grocery story. Karen and Gerri also spoke of butchering chickens and selling the dressed birds at a grocery store in Rapid City, likely the Bean Bag.
The 1960s brought with it another occupation. Gerri was the area Avon lady, selling Avon up and down the road as she traveled in her Volkswagen. Still, she found time to sew, making all of Karen’s clothes and many of her own.
Her legacy of hard work left its mark on her children and grandchildren. Of equal and perhaps more lasting impact, though, is Gerri’s legacy of faith. Bud and Ruth were faithful to take their children to church. As an infant, Gerri attended church on a pillow to make the hard church seating more comfortable.
The earliest church Gerri remembers was one on a section line on her parents’ place. That church was eventually moved to Viewfield, just north of the Viewfield Hall. When the church burned in the middle of the century, Veryl and other men from the area joined forces to build the Viewfield church. That church was eventually moved to New Underwood and is still in use as the Bridled for Christ church today. Veryl and Gerri, meanwhile, began traveling to Rapid City to attend the newly established People’s Bible Church, which is now known as the Bible Fellowship Church.
Though Gerri was raised in church, her relationship with God did not become real to her until about six months after she was married. She and Veryl attended evangelistic meetings where an evangelist from Seattle spoke. Something stirred in Gerri’s heart. One evening during the services in that June of 1937, she went forward and accepted Christ as her Savior. The next evening, Veryl did the same. It would be the single most defining step of their lives. “We stayed close to the Lord in our daily living,” Gerri said.
Gerri’s children can attest to that. According to Karen, everything from their marriage to their child rearing was grounded on their relationship with God. “They had a good marriage, and it was very much church oriented. We went to church Sunday, Sunday night, Wednesday nights and anything in between. We were brought up in the church. It was our entertainment,” Karen said.
Marked by her active mind and willingness to work, Gerri taught Sunday School, led Bible studies and directed a children’s choir, complete with homemade robes she sewed for the singers. Always an avid reader, Gerri devoted herself to more Bible learning via a correspondence course.
This life of faith was more than an outward showing for Gerri and Veryl. According to both Karen and Donnie, Gerri and Veryl lived authentic lives of integrity. They valued honesty, and they taught their children to be good, honest people. Donnie describes Gerri as “a lady of her word. When Mother said something, it was gospel.”
Now, as a hot, dry July fades into August, Gerri prepares to celebrate her 100th birthday with the family and friends she has accrued in her full life. The activity in her room at the Good Samaritan testifies to her popularity and the family’s devotion to the family matriarch. Books line her shelves, evidence that this venerable lady still has a thirst for knowledge and a willingness to stay active and alert.
Many factors impact her longevity, but for Gerri herself, living for a hundred years and still being full of vim and vigor can be attributed to two overriding causes: “God’s care and hard work.”