Pembroke -- When Myra Witt was born on March 21, 1921, no one could have envisioned that her loved ones would celebrate with her 100 years later by talking to an electronic device.
But you don’t live a century without learning how to settle for what you’ve got rather than holding out for what you wish you had. So when the COVID-19 pandemic nixed all the celebrations her family had planned to mark her milestone, using computer technology and the Internet to hear each other’s voices and see each other’s faces, while not nearly as good as real hugs, kisses and handshakes, just had to do. The former Laurentian Valley dairy farmer is now a resident of Miramichi Lodge in Pembroke.
She was born in Pembroke to William and Amanda (Greif) Scheuneman, the youngest of a family of four. She grew up in the family home on Second Avenue with her siblings, Gert, Eric, and Oscar.
Myra and her husband, Walter Witt, were married on June 7, 1941. Shortly afterward they took over the family farm from Walter’s parents. The four children they raised are: Frank (Judi), now living in Pembroke; Ken (Mandy) of Chilliwack, BC; Sheryl (late Chuck) Parr of Kelowna, BC, and Donna (Roger) Liddle of Manotick. There are also eight grandchildren and 17 (soon to be 18) great-grandchildren.
“They were all planning to come to celebrate with her,” said son Frank. “But with all the restrictions it was just not worth it.”
Mrs. Witt’s daughter, Donna Liddle, said her mother loved to gather family and friends around her dinner table.
“Any occasion was worth a dinner and a special cake,” she recalls.
So she did have the special cake for her 100th birthday, and greeting cards, phone calls, flowers, gifts, and picture book mementos. Miramichi Lodge staff assisted with a computer tablet so that the Ottawa Valley members of her family gathered on the lawn under her second floor window at the home could watch her on their own devices as she opened her gifts. And she could watch her great-grandchildren as they played and wrote messages to her on the walkway with sidewalk chalk.
There was even the opportunity for a four-generation picture with selected representatives of each of the three generations succeeding her. Daughter Donna at 70 is 30 years younger than her mother Myra. Her daughter, Pam Sokol, was born when her mother, Donna, was 30 and is 40 this year. And Pam’s daughter, Abigail, was born when her mother Pam was 30, which makes her 10 years old. And, of course, Myra is in the picture via Facetime.
She met her husband-to-be, Walter, of Locksley (part of present-day Laurentian Valley) on a blind date organized by her sister, Gert. The move to the farm was a significant transition for the “town” girl.
“I never had to work in the barn, and that was a good thing,” she said in a phone interview. “Walter always had help.”
Mrs. Witt had a thriving egg business of her own.
“We kept hens, and I sold a bunch of eggs over the years,” she recalled. “I used to deliver them door to door every week to my customers in Pembroke.”
And every year there was a big garden.
“I gardened a lot,” she said. “I sold a lot of vegetables. People came to the farm and got them. I was always busy.”
She grew plenty of cabbage and so she could make sauerkraut every autumn and sell it at the Pembroke market.
Each year pigs were raised as a sideline to the dairy farm. When they were slaughtered in the fall she and the family would make smoked sausage which was smoked in the smoke house and enjoyed especially on Christmas Eve during family festivities. She also made liver pate and blood sausage.
“She was a great cook,” said Frank. “She contributed a lot of food to events at the church (Grace Lutheran Church, Locksley, next door to the Witt farm).”
The Witt family donated the land on which the church is built. She still is a member of the church and of the Ladies’ Aid there.
In 1967, Canada’s centennial year, the farm had been in the Witt family for over 100 years and so qualified for a “Century Farm” sign at the entrance to the property.
After Frank and Judi were married in 1968 they took over the family farm. Frank’s father, Walter, continued to work on the farm with Frank for a time while Myra worked on a casual basis in several retail stores in Pembroke.
“She also spent a lot of time as caregiver for her mother in her later years,” recalls Frank.
In their retirement Walter and Myra exercised their love of travelling. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1991. Walter died in 1993.
The farm remained in the Witt family until 2005 when Frank and Judi sold it.
Mrs. Witt says she never expected to live to be 100. Asked about the secret of her long life she said without hesitation, “it must have been the flaxseed.”
“A little French lady told my mother how good flaxseed is for you, and she gave me flaxseed all my life,” she said. “There could be other things too, but I think that it was mainly the flaxseed.”
Daughter Donna attributes much of the family’s success in life to their mother’s teaching.
“She taught us by example the value of hard work and encouraged all of us to pursue education and careers, even her daughters, not common in the 1950s,” she said.
Marie Zettler, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader