In 1913, Woodrow Wilson began the first of two terms as 28th President of the United States, women were fighting for the right to vote, and Ford Motor Company introduced the first moving assembly line. It is also the year Leona (Baker) McCaslin came into this world - May 9 to be exact.
Leona shares her birth year with some pretty impressive names: Richard Nixon, Rosa Parks, Vince Lombardi and Gerald Ford, to name a few.
The first of five children of Ernest and Clara Baker, Leona was born in the Bethel Union community at her grandma’s house, just up the road from the home she lives in today. Growing up she lived in seven different places, but always went to the same school - Snake Run - through the 10th grade. She made the journey to town to attend Broken Bow High School, graduating with the class of 1931.
Leona recalls that getting to school was much more challenging for her and her siblings than it is for kids these days. Her brothers Alvin and Elwood would ride one horse, while Leona, Dale and Dorothy rode the other.
“Then as we grew and lived farther we drove a team hitched to a buggy. Quite a chore to unhook them, put them in the barn and in snowy weather put our blankets in the hallway at the school house,” recalls Leona. “Then we would have to hitch them up again to go back home.”
Like many young women of her day, Leona took normal training classes in high school and went to work teaching when she graduated. Her first teaching job was at Tappan Valley, and over the next nine years she taught at four or five different rural schools around Broken Bow.
In May 1941, Leona married Charles (Chuck) McCaslin, and retired from teaching. For the first three years of their marriage Chuck farmed and the young family lived in rental houses. Then in 1944, they bought their own farm near where Leona had grown up.
“The snakes were plentiful around there, so when we crossed the road we carried a hoe,” Leona remembers.
The couple made their living raising crops and cattle. They also raised their three children - Beverly (Donham), Charlene (Connely) and Norman - on the farm. And though she no longer worked outside the home, Leona says she stayed plenty busy.
“I would go to the pastures with Chuck and if a fence needed fixed he would do the posts and I drove the staples for the wire. I helped him all I could,” she recalls.
Even though she was busy helping on the farm and raising her family, Leona says she has always enjoyed doing anything that involves working with her hands - in particular gardening, crocheting and painting. She says she can’t help much in the garden any more, but even last year was still canning the tomatoes and green beans. She says she is really looking forward to the fresh produce again this year, and is excited that she has asparagus ready now.
Chuck passed away in 2003, and Leona is happy that she was able to take care of him in their home the last few years of his life. She is also extremely pleased that she is able to still live in the home she and her husband created so many years ago.
“I am right where I want to be, and as long as I can keep doing some of the things outdoors I will be happy. In fact, when Norman starts going out to the pastures I might just ride along with him!”
Leona says she is sometimes overwhelmed at all the changes she has seen in her lifetime. One big change has been recent, and has affected the landscape that she has viewed for most of her 100 years. “I can see 19 windmills out the front door, and six out the back,” she says. “At the time we bought the farm we didn’t even have good pasture fences.”
In the last few years, Leona has written two books of family history and memories. Though she wrote the books mainly for her family, she says she has had others ask for copies.
Leona still has two living siblings, Dale Baker and Dorothy Daugherty, both in Broken Bow. Her brother and sister were among the large contingency of family and friends who turned out to wish her a happy 100th birthday last week.
When asked if she has any secrets to a long life, Leona says she hasn’t really done anything special other than clean living. “I’ve never tasted tobacco, and I’ve never tasted liquor,” she says.