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106 ... and going strong: Birthday party today for Ann Roberts at Prairie View Care Center

Posted: Monday, Oct 1st, 2012

Ann (Zoss) Roberts turns 106 today. There will be an open house birthday party today for her at Prairie View Care Center in Woonsocket Her advice for living is to stay positive. Shown in the next photo from left are Gladys Kruse, 100, Ann Roberts, 106, and Rozella DeVries, 102. They are the three centenarians at Prairie View Care Center. PHOTOS BY KARA GUTORMSON/PLAINSMAN

WOONSOCKET — At 106, Ann (Zoss) Roberts has more than a century of memories and is still making them. She is a resident at Prairie View Care Center in Woonsocket, where she has lived since August. There will be an open house birthday party today for her at Prairie View Care Center in Woonsocket from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Roberts was born on Sept. 29, 1906, in Barnsville, Minn., and when she was just 6 months old, her family moved to South Dakota and settled in Letcher. She grew up with 13 siblings, 6 sisters and 7 brothers.

She remembers growing up when indoor plumbing was a novelty and electricity was only present in some homes, not all of them. “When I was 16, we built a new house and it had a bathroom,” said Roberts. “We were the only people in the neighborhood who had a bathroom; we were so proud of it!”

Not everyone had a phone either, and so communication sometimes moved slowly. “What we have now with technology is amazing,” she said. “We lived on a farm and my dad would go to town every Saturday. The elections were on a Tuesday and he didn’t know until Saturday that Theodore Roosevelt was elected!”

It took a full day just to visit her grandparents, who lived 20 miles away in Mitchell. The family would get up in the morning and travel by horse and buggy and “it took half a day just to get there,” Roberts recalled.

After attending high school in Forestburg, she attained a teaching degree from Northern State Teachers College. At the age of 17, she started teaching at a country school near Forestburg for one school year. She taught in Woonsocket for three years.

Roberts bought her first car at the age of 21. “In 1927, I bought a 1923 Ford for 75 dollars,” she said. “My brother asked me ‘how could you spend that much?’”

She decided to pursue further education and attended the University of Wisconsin. After graduation, she got a job offer in Honolulu to teach math at a private school there. At night, she taught adults. “I had a lot of time. So I taught kids during the day, then at night I taught adults.”

Roberts wanted to see the world and it turned out Hawaii was not an exotic enough destination for her. “I started talking to this man, he was Japanese and had become an American citizen,” she remembered. “I told him I would really like to go to Japan,” she said. “He told me ‘I can get you in there,’ and he wrote to his colonel and the colonel made a position for me.”

She taught from 1948 to 1950, during a period known as the occupation in Japan. “It was an army of occupation after the second world war,” she said. “A lot of boys went into the military without finishing high school,” she explained. That was where Roberts came in, helping them to finish their educations while they served.

Then another opportunity came her way — a chance to teach airmen during the Korean War. Roberts pounced on the job offer. “I was a civilian attached to the U.S. Air Force,” she said. Her main role as education director was to help the airmen and other base personnel earn their GEDs.

While in Korea, she was based 60 miles south of Seoul, in the village of Suwon. As a civilian, she was only miles away from the battle zone. Although she had to deal with the harsh realities of the war, and sometimes lost students because of it, Roberts says the three years of teaching in Korea was one of the greatest experiences of her lifetime. “It was wonderful, and at the time, was so much better than anything I’d ever done.”

She was one of the few women civilians working with the military. “There weren’t very many teachers like me,” she said. “At first, I was the only American woman in Korea. Then after six months they brought in a librarian and they began bringing in more teachers.”

In 1954, the war was over and she decided to come back to the United States. She met Allen Roberts, the man who became her husband, while golfing at a golf course outside of Los Angeles. They were married in a chapel in Las Vegas. “I was almost 50 when we were married — I was old!”

When she moved to Los Angeles, she headed in a different direction, career-wise. “I decided to go into the business world,” said Roberts. She went to work for TRW Inc. in Los Angeles. The company was active in the development of missile systems and spacecraft, and Roberts got the chance to work with the earliest computers at TRW.

“That was when the Russians came out with Sputnik and we were scrambling to have something to compete with it,” she said. “And we used computers, but at that time, it wasn’t like the computers now. We had to basically translate numbers to words.” She worked there for 13 years until she retired at the age of 65.

What is her secret to keeping her mind sharp? “I like to study things. I’m very interested in astronomy and the planets,” she said. “Anything to do with space really interests me.”

Roberts has experienced so many things in her life. When the topic of advice came up, Roberts was quick to give financial tips. “You have to keep your mind on money,” she said. “I got into the stock market and at first, I lost a lot of money. But then, I started digging into it and studying and now I’ve made more money by investing,” she said.

The other words of wisdom Roberts has is to stay positive. “I have always been a positive woman,” said Roberts. “I think your attitude about life is more or less your personality, when it comes down to it.”

She inspires not only her family, but also the staff and residents at the Prairie View Care Center and pretty much everyone she meets. “She likes to joke; she’s always got a fast comeback,” said her niece, Dottie Zoss.

“I think she is an amazing person; as kids, we would always wait for her to come home and tell us about her adventures,” said niece Becky Hein.

For the complete article see the 09-29-2012 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 09-29-2012 paper.

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