100 years filled with faith, family and friends
“I thought if I lived to be 60, I’d be old,” said 100-yearold Edith Lorraine (Romfoe) Dearth. “Now, I really feel old.”
The Gilman native, who goes by Lorraine, was born Dec. 14, 1920, in Polley, which was located south of Gilman.
“That was a bigger town than Gilman was,” said Lorraine.
At the time, hospitals were too far away for those located in rural areas, so Lorraine came into the world delivered by a midwife.
Lorraine was the third of three girls born to Magnus and Marie Romfoe, in a house across the road north of the tavern located in Polley. She attended the grade school in Polley for a short time, before the family moved to Connecticut, which was quite the change.
Her father worked on propellers on planes, and was employed in Gilman, then Wausau, and finally, Milwaukee, before the move to the eastern seaboard. After a couple years on the east coast, the Romfoes moved back to Wisconsin. That was fine by Lorraine, as she preferred Wisconsin.
“I always wanted to come back to Gilman,” said Lorraine.
Her sister discovered a house her father had always admired was for sale, so the family came back to their roots. Lorraine later attended Gilman High School, graduating from there.
“One of the girls I graduated with, Ella Welgos, lives in the very same apartment house as I do here (Thorp),” said Lorraine. “We graduated together 80 years ago.”
After graduating, Lorraine worked at Romig’s Hardware Store in Gilman.
I worked at the soda fountain most of the time,” said Lorraine.
She also worked as a substitute librarian in Gilman, and at the nursing home.
“That was very rewarding,” said Lorraine.
While working in Gilman, she met her husband, who taught at the high school, in 1945, and they were married in 1946. The couple had two boys, Don and Jeff Burtard, and two daughters, Ren’ee Teclaw and Rachel Hendzel. They later divorced, but because of their union, the family tree now includes eight grandchildren, 24 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandsons.
Throughout her life, Lorraine enjoyed traveling, and was never one to shy from hopping on a plane, especially when Ren’ee’s husband was in the Navy and stationed far from home.
“She was always willing to get on the airplane and come visit us,” said Ren’ee, adding that her children got to know their grandma well, which wouldn’t have been possible if she hadn’t made the trips.
In fact, in her 80s, Lorraine and Ren’ee took the Amtrak train out of Tomah, heading to Idaho to visit Jeff.
“She was pretty game,” said Ren’ee. “That was an interesting trip for us.”
The girls agree that since she is such a social person, Lorraine keeps her mind active and occupied.
Rachel says her mom drew the family together, with faith such a huge part of their lives.
“I think that’s a big part of life,” said Rachel. “Faith, then family and friends.”
“Sometimes, I get in trouble,” laughed Lorraine.
While she may joke, Lorraine spent most of her life as a member of Zion Lutheran Church in Gilman, even seeing the 100-year celebration the parish held in 2018. Lorraine still remembers when she started coming to church at eight years old, walking with her mother from their home in Polley.
She even sat in the same pew where she was confi rmed in 1938, and brought her own children to learn the ways of God, which made a big impression on Lorraine.
“I try to be kind to everybody,” she said. Lorraine’s life hasn’t been without troubles, which started before she was ever born, when her mother almost died from the Spanish flu pandemic that swept the country in 1918. Lorraine also didn’t escape the clutches of disease and contracted polio when she was only nine months old.
“She didn’t walk until she was five or six years old,” said Rachel.
Because of her sickness, Lorraine is almost blind in one eye and her right side has always been weaker. However, that didn’t stop her from living her life to the fullest, what with her involvement in church, work, traveling and baking.
“I was known as the Cookie Grandma,” said Lorraine.
Although the current COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down Lorraine’s outings and interactions, she celebrated the century mark Dec. 14, 2020, and is looking ahead to what her 101st birthday might bring. Maybe even along the lines of a big party?
“Wouldn’t that be something?” said Lorraine.