In 1916, World War I was in full swing, Charlie Chaplin was an icon in silent movies, Woodrow Wilson was president, the first supermarket opened in Memphis, Tenn., and Erma Saeger was born.
Celebrating her 101st birthday on Tuesday, April 25, Erma has lived through 2 world wars, the Great Depression, the Korean Conflict, the Cold War and various other world crises.
Excited about being a centenarian, Erma is a sprightly woman with sparkling eyes, a quick smile and a mind “sharp as a tack.” She enjoys reminiscing about her past life, but is engaged with the world of her 3 daughters, son, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She also enjoys “bragging rights” as she relates their academic, professional and personal accomplishments.
The fourth of nine children, Erma talks about growing up in Wellsville with her 3 brothers and 5 sisters. She remembers that her father worked midnight shift at a steel plant on the Ohio River so that there was always an extra bed at night for her Grandmother who lived with the family. The family moved to Louisville when Erma was 12 because “my dad was offered a better job.”
During the Depression, Erma worked for room, board and a small salary as a cook and housekeeper at Ideal Stock Farm near Louisville.
An elementary school friendship with Homer Saeger began to blossom into a relationship when the two were about 15 in high school, and into a romance as they graduated. “We dated for about 5 years before Homer gave me a diamond for Christmas and we were married in June,” she remembered with a sweet smile.
As the U.S. was thrown into World War II, Erma and Homer were busy raising their 2 children. “We were so blessed during the War because Homer was working at Hercules in Canton building trucks for the military. Because his work was part of the war effort, he did not get drafted,” remembered Erma.
Homer left manufacturing to pursue his passion in woodworking to work as a carpenter and home builder. The family left Louisville after 38 years and moved to Delroy into a home on Atwood Lake. There Homer “loved working as a carpenter and our daughter was able to enjoy the horses that she loved,” said Erma.
She has fond memories of trips on the family’s pontoon boat on Atwood Lake, and meeting with friends to chat while quilting and doing needlework. She talked about canning fruits and vegetables and making jams with produce from her large garden.
The mother of 4 children, Erma said she always felt as if she has had “two families.” “My daughter went off to Otterbein College in September, and I had a new baby in December,” remembered Erma. “And, she was followed with another child 4 years later,” Erma said noting that she delivered her last baby at age 40.
She and Homer moved to Copeland Oaks Retirement Community in Sebring in 1992 after Homer was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. After his death, Erma remained in their villa until moving into a catered living apartment on the Copeland campus.
Erma relinquished her driver’s license several years ago since she has been battling double vision. She still does her own cooking and personal laundry. “When my son, Ken, comes for the weekly trip to the grocery store, I make him supper. His favorite is my meatloaf and baked sweet potatoes,” she said.
She looks forward to visiting her sister, Grace Meados, who lives in Louisville. “At 91, Grace is the the only one left of my brothers and sisters,” Erma said sadly.
When asked for her advice to attain longevity, Erma credited her faith. “I found Jesus at 9 years old and have tried to walk with Him every day since,” she said. She has attended church regularly in Louisville and in Delroy. “Since I have had the double vision problem, I would always see 2 pastors at the pulpit. So, I figured I got double benefit out of the services,” Erma quipped.
She also said that she enjoyed walking for exercise throughout her years as a mother and homemaker. She still “makes it a point” to get out every day and stroll around the Copeland Oaks campus using her walker.
Erma’s Copeland apartment is filled with furniture that was made by her husband including a grandfather clock. She also prizes a beautiful china cabinet that was made by her son, Ken, who learned woodworking from Homer. And, this week, Erma’s apartment is fragrant with bouquets of flowers and cheerful with greeting cards that bring birthday wishes from family and friends.