Laura Recker has led an exciting life. (Putnam Sentinel/Anne Coburn-Griffis)
OTTAWA - In this issue of the Putnam County Sentinel, on A8 actually, there is photo of a woman riding a bull, her right arm extended above her head for balance. What's truly notable about the attached announcement is that the woman in the image will soon celebrate her 90th birthday.Laura Recker was born Oct. 21, 1923 to Bernard and Mary (Bockrath) Vennekotter, one of six children. On Feb. 27, 1946, Laura married Joseph H. Recker, who passed away in July 2001. During the course of their marriage, the Reckers had 12 children. Although Laura and her children lost Joe in July 2001, 58 grandchildren, 90 great-grandchildren carry on the youthful Vennekotter-Recker genes exhibited by their bull-riding grandmother.
"If Dad hadn't smoked," says daughter Laura Joe Schroeder. "He'd still be here, too. But he was a [World War II] scout, and they gave the soldiers cigarettes to keep them happy."
His wife continues to hold Christmas in her modest ranch west of Ottawa. When asked which Christmas was the most memorable, Recker's daughter Laura Joe Schroeder pointed out that since about 200 people fill the house on December 25, probably all Christmases have their moments.
But adventure for Laura Recker doesn't stop at holding Christmas for 200. The bull-riding photo serves as evidence. This event happened during a visit with family to the Texas State Fair.
"I never saw so many cattle in all my life. And there was this bull. Two young boys were taking care of that. There was this young 17-year-old girl, not too bad to look at. You had to buy a ticket. These boys were all smiles, thinking that young girl was going to get on. Instead, Grandma got on."
Although the bull in the photograph looks real, it was a stationary bull. The image fooled the editorial staff at this newspaper.
"It does look real. I even had to wear chaps," smiles Recker. "People don't have to know that, though. Pictures don't lie!"
Mechanical bull-riding is just the latest activity in this youthful nonagenarian's life. Growing up on the Vennekotter family's farm meant keeping up with her siblings on the weekday walk to one-room Kirkendall School in Greensburg Township, as well as the challenge of daily chores.
"I rode a cow," recalls Recker. "When we were five and started to school, we had to milk Bossy. The biggest problem was balancing on the footstool and keep your dress from falling to the ground. I rode sheep and a pig, too, but not intentionally."
Electricity is the invention Recker deems the most important in her lifetime, thus far. The first American president she remembers is Herbert Hoover. One of the games she and her grade school classmates played was Hoover Pockets.
"The older boys would hang their pockets outside. Nothing in them. The teacher would see them and say, 'put your Hoover pockets away."
After grade eight, Recker went to high school at Palmer School in Miller City. At age 17, she worked at a machinery store during WWII. At that time, Americans were given ration stamps and cards to redeem for goods.
"You were allowed an A-stamp for four gallons of gasoline for pleasure. B-stamps gave you eight gallons for business. Farmers could get R-stamps for whatever amount you needed to run your tractors.
"One day Mr. Vermilyea, the school superintendent and head of the ration board, came in. He had been to Continental School, that was his job, and was running out of gas. He was on his way to Ottawa. He wanted to buy gas but he had R-stamps. I told him I couldn't sell him gas because those were for farmers. He waited for an hour until my boss came back. My boss laughed and asked me why I wouldn't sell the superintendent gas. I told him I was afraid [Vermilyea] was trying to set me up. There was a fine on selling gas to someone who didn't have the right stamp."
Recker made $11.80 a week at that job. She remembers working in a Victory Garden during the war years, raising food to send to the troops. After she married Joe in Cuba, Ohio, the couple raised their 12 children on a farm with various livestock and specialty crops. They raised kosher lamb and eggs which were shipped to New York.
During a summer in which field workers went on strike, the husband and wife team picked a ten-acre field on their own. Mrs. Recker had just given birth, so she sat herself and the basket down on the ground and picked slowly but surely.
As her children grew to adulthood, Recker took to the road, the air and water. She traveled from country to country across western Europe and sailed on cruise ships, including one seven years ago that took her down one coast of South America and up the other. The journey included a stop at the Falkland Islands, a place she wanted to visit because of its historic significance.
"That was the most desolate place I ever saw," she says. "I think there was one tree in the whole place."
Recker was set to race sled dogs in Alaska two years ago, even had her ticket, but the helicopter she was to fly on was grounded due to fog.
Recker even did a bit of smuggling before failing eyesight limited her travels.
"That was in Nassau. Joe and I were standing under a palm tree and a coconut fell right by our feet. He said 'Why, that could have hit us.' I said, 'Yeah, but God wants us to take that home.' I had taken a wig along because I knew we'd be spending time in the ocean. I took the wig off the wig stand, left it there and put the wig on the coconut. They opened it at the inspection station. I stood right there, wondering if they were going to coop me up. But they never found it."
All the Recker kids played with that coconut, and now the grandkids. Their grandmother uses it for a doorstop in her favorite place of all: home.
Other than a case of whooping cough and tonsillitis treated daily by a doctor with a long stick and acid, Recker's good genes allow her to maximize her sense of adventure when she does leave her residence. She keeps those genes in shape with an exercise bike, canning, and even a bit of running.
Although Recker's eyesight has dimmed to the point that she no longer treks the globe, she keeps up on the happenings in her neck of the county. On the day of this interview, a portable toilet stood approximately one-eighth of a mile west of her front door. The facility was there to serve Blanchard River floodplain cleaning crews.
"But don't use it," laughs Recker. "It's locked. I checked."
story created on Monday 9/16/2013 at 6:32:50 pm by Anne Coburn-Griffis
story modified on Tuesday 9/17/2013 at 7:13:39 pm by Kirk Dougal