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Sarah (Conway) Wargen Wilkins


Posted By: Errin Wilker (email)
Date: 11/6/2016 at 19:19:23

This biography is from several news articles first published at the time of Sarah's 100th birthday. They were transcribed by the contributor and the photos accompanied the articles:


Memories of Pearls and Weeds - Local Lady Reflects on Last 100 Years
By Kari Berns

Sarah Wilkins said she never thought she'd live past the age of 32. "When I was little, I always thought I would die when I was 32," she said. Although her father told her she shouldn't say such things, it was a feeling Wilkins said she just couldn't shake. But, 32 came and went and so did many other birthdays, including number 100.

On March 27, 1899, Wilkins became the second daughter born to Mr. and Mrs. Martin Conway of Harpers Ferry. She would be followed by seven other children, including five more sisters and two brothers.

The Conway family made their home in Whippoorwill Valley, near Harpers Ferry. It was there that Wilkins was born and where relatives still reside today, a century later.

Wilkins recalled what life was like on the farm. "We had to get up in the morning and pull weeds on our hands and knees in the corn field," she said. This was a dreaded task for the farmer's daughter, who vowed at a young age that she was not going to marry a farmer.

Unlike today, the family farm didn't have the comforts of machinery to do even the simplest tasks. One such job was separating the cream from the milk. Every morning and evening, Wilkins said her mother would take the milk down to a freshwater spring that meandered through the farm. The cold water would chill the milk and her mother would scoop the cream off with her hand.

Every other day, the family would haul the cream to town and sell it. They didn't have to go every day because the stream served as a refrigerator that would keep the milk cold. Wilkins said her father even built a small building over the creek that served as a storage area for the milk and cream.

In 1917, near that building, Wilkins said her sister Marcel and a friend were picking berries and were accosted by a wolf. They two 10-year-old girls began throwing rocks at the wolf, who ran away and then died in the creek. Then, the family took the wolf to town and Marcel and her friend's picture appeared in the paper with the wolf they killed.

Wilkins also recalled another pastime, other than pulling weeds, that was common to many area residents. "We would go to the river almost every day and walk into he water until we'd get to where the clams were and then we'd pick clams," she said. "There was an old man who used to cook the clams and we'd pay him maybe 10 or 20 cents." Then, the man would cool the clams, and Wilkins said she and her siblings would open them and look for pearls.

"Slugs," were the designated title for the bad pearls. "Cuts" were the ones that were better quality than the slugs but still weren't the top-of-the-line. "We found one beautiful one," she said. "That was the one that paid for our piano." At the time, Wilkins estimated that the pearl earned the family three to $400. But although they only found one pearl that earned them a considerable sum of money, the cuts and slugs were still worth some money, she said. People still used the lower quality pearls to make jewelry.

When Wilkins was old enough, she went to work at the local post office. Eventually, she moved to Minneapolis, where she passed up an opportunity to work at that post office. Wilkins said the thought of working at a much larger post office was "too scary,' so she took a job as a manager of a lunch room and soda fountain in Bannon Bros. Department Store.

For four years, she worked at the store until she married her husband, Harry [Wargen/Wargin], on June 23, 1923. Together, the two had one boy and three girls. After living in Minneapolis and Chicago for much of their married life, the couple returned to the area and bought a house in New Albin. "My husband was a great fisherman and thought this would be the ideal place to spend his retirement," she said. The home they bought was once the New Albin Train Depot, she said.

In 1971, her husband died and Wilkins has since remarried and stayed in the area ever since.

After 100 years, Wilkins said the stream that cooled the milk in Whippoorwill Valley is still flowing. She also said she'd like to live another 10 years, just so she can see how Harpers Ferry grows. "Harpers Ferry will be a big town," she said. "My aunt used to say Harpers Ferry is going to be a big city someday."

~Allamakee Journal, Lansing, IA, 19 May 1999
~The photo of Sarah, age 100 (below) appeared with this article

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Lansing Woman Shares Memories of a Millennium
By Jo Konichek

When she was young, her family didn't have a phone. If someone in the family was sick, her father had to walk up to the neighbors house to use a phone. Very few people had phones in Whippoorwill Hollow where Sarah Wilkins grew up because telephone poles were costly and most farmers, like themselves, couldn't afford a phone for that reason.

Sarah will be celebrating her 101st birthday on March 27, 2000. She has lived through the many changes the world has seen. Many of those changes have occurred in her lifetime.

She grew up on a farm with seven sisters and only two brothers, and all the children had to do chores in the morning before school. Then they would prepare for their arduous task of walking over four miles just to get an education.

During the winter, her mother would wrap her children in newspapers, underneath their clothing, to keep them extra warm through even the most inclement weather such as strong winds, harsh sleet, and blinding snow. They would wear overshoes with several pairs of socks.

If the wolves were howling at night before a school day, her father would tell them he would meet them on the path so they wouldn't have to walk home in the dark because school let out a 4 p.m.

So many homes are going up in the area she grew up in, but she is glad that the farm she was raised on has stayed in the family. Now Sarah's younger sister lives there. One difference between then and now on the farm is that her sister's children have the convenience of being bussed to school. They don't have to walk four miles.

Now modern technology has given us washing machines that are computerized. When Sarah was young, her mother had to use a wringer washer. In the summer time, her mother had twelve children on the farm. Her mother would devote many hours to do wash, because as soon as she thought she was done, she would have more to do, again!

Sarah said there is no way she could help children now with their homework. Now her grandchildren are using computers in school, and they're learning more than just reading, writing, and arithmetic. They are now learning things that didn't exist when she was in school.

The mode of transportation has changed since she was a little girl. She saw horses and buggies tool around the area until she was about seven years old. One day when a car drove down the road she thought it was a buggy with no horse! When she came home from school, she told her mom about it. Her mom advised her that it was an automobile.

Her father finally bought an automobile. He didn't have a license, but at that time, you didn't need one. If you thought you could drive, you could attempt it at your own risk. So, when he drove the new family automobile for the first time, he wasn't too familiar with driving, and ended up swerving all over the road until the automobile landed in the ditch, a crumpled pile of metal. He refrained from driving for awhile after that incident.

~Allamakee Journal, Lansing, March 2000
~The photo of Sarah, age 101 (below) appeared with this article

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At 107, She's Ready to Cast Her Ballot
By Michael Martin

Back in 1899, when Sarah Wilkins was born, women were still being fined or even imprisoned for trying to vote. All that changed in August of 1920 when the 19th Amendment to the constitution was ratified. Sarah, today the oldest current resident of the Thornton Heights Assisted Living Center in Lansing, was only 21 at the time. She has been voting ever since.

Sarah grew up in the Harpers Ferry area and, according to her nice, Marcie Hale from New Albin, has vivid memories of the first automobile she ever saw. Sarah tells how she ran home to tell her father about the "buggy" she had just seen with no horse pulling it. Sarah says her father eventually bought one of those strange-looking new inventions, but he never bothered to learn how to drive it. That chore always fell to her brother Peter, who was only too happy to tell his dad, "I can drive a car, Pop!"

There were seven girls and two boys in Sarah's family. Her father was a lifelong Democrat, and Sarah says she has always voted Democratic, too. After growing up in Harpers Ferry, Sarah moved to Minneapolis in the 20's, and found a job in the woolen mills. She met and married Harry Wargen. They had four children and eventually moved to Chicago as part of Harry's job. When Harry retired they moved back to northeast Iowa, settling in New Albin. Sarah say that while Harry did a lot of fishing, she joined every card club she could.

After Harry passed away in the early 70's, Sarah continued to play cards with friends. That was how she met Wilbur Wilkins. In 1981 they married. Recently the two celebrated their 21st anniversary at Thornton Heights (where Wilbur is also a resident). Wilbur will turn 100 this December, undoubtedly making them one of the oldest married couples in Iowa, if not the entire United States.

With elections upcoming in November, Sarah made plans to exercise her right to vote once more. Recently, she completed the paperwork to get an absentee ballot delivered to her in time for the election.

~Allamakee Journal, Lansing, 2006

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Other photo captions & sources for the photos below:

Age 102
Sarah Wilkins, age 102, says she would love to visit all her grandchildren for Christmas. Celebration of her 100th birthday two years ago included visits from everyone in her family, and she says to do that all over again would be a wonderful present for Christmas.
~Allamakee Journal, Lansing, Dec. 2001
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Age 105
Sarah Wilkins Turns 105 with March 28th Celebration
Family and friends of Sarah Wilkins invite you to celebrate her 105th birthday on Sunday, March 28, 2004, from 2 to 4 p.m. at Thornton Manor in Lansing. Sarah (Conway) Wargin Wilkins was born March 27, 1899, in Harpers Ferry, Iowa. She has resided at Thornton Manor since April 30, 1999.
~Allamakee Journal, Lansing, March 2004
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Age 106
Wilkins Celebrates 106th Birthday
Sarah (Wargin) Wilkins celebrated her 106th birthday with family and friends at Thornton Manor in Lansing Easter Sunday. Sarah was born March 27, 1899 near Harpers Ferry. Sarah has three living children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Sarah loves to play bingo and attends mass regularly. She has resided at Thornton Manor since 1999.
~Allamakee Journal, Lansing, April 2005
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Age 108 - 5 generation photo is from the Allamakee Journal, Lansing, July 2007


Sarah's obituary & another photo

Allamakee Biographies maintained by Sharyl Ferrall.
WebBBS 4.33 Genealogy Modification Package by WebJourneymen

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