By Margie Wuebker
ST. HENRY -- Wishes can come true. Just ask Edward Pleiman Sr.
At 98, Pleiman longed to hold his 100th and 101st great-grandchildren. He did that earlier this month at The Gardens at St. Henry.
"Oh, it's been a dream of mine for a while," the retired farmer says with a smile. "And I lived long enough for it to happen."
Photographs taken that day show him proudly holding Ella Rose Pleiman born Oct. 22 and Allison Jo Miller who arrived Oct. 25.
Four of the five other great-grandchildren born this year also showed up, including Olivia Katherine Winner, Owen Benjamin Harlamert, Brooke Marie Harlamert and Jenna Ann Knapke. Little Ethan Grogean could not be present for the picture-taking session. "Not one of those babies cried during the time they were here," Pleiman says proudly."They were on their very best behavior."
Having a large family was something his bride, the former Margaret Schaefer, spoke about in the weeks leading up to their 1930 wedding. Her only sibling had died of pneumonia and she longed for a house filled with the sound of children's voices.
Pleiman pointed out he did not have to go far to court his future bride. The Schaefer homestead was just up the road from his homeplace with one house separating the properties. Following the wedding, the newlyweds settled down on an Osgood farm they rented from his brother.
The pitter-patter of little feet soon became a familiar sound as their family grew. The first eight children were born at home but problems developed during the ninth pregnancy. The family doctor diagnosed the cause of unrelenting abdominal pain as an inflamed appendix.
"The doctor did what he could and told the priest it was now up to him," Pleiman says. "Margaret survived but the little girl named Irene did not."
Three more children were born during the ensuing years.
Pleiman admits his family was not wealthy in monetary terms but nobody went hungry or naked. They raised cows, hogs, chickens and sheep, providing a steady supply of meat, milk and eggs. Margaret Pleiman tended a large garden and spent the summer canning the vegetables and fruits of her labor. She also logged countless hours at the sewing machine creating new garments or restructuring hand-me-downs.
Farming was quite different in those days, Pleiman said. Instead of hooking up an air-conditioned John Deere tractor to an eight-bottom plow, he hitched a pair of horses named Prince and Dolly to a plow and turned one furrow at a time. The team knew what was expected of them, particularly at corn shucking time.
"We would be busy shucking while the horses stood hitched up to the wagon," he explains. "They would move ahead a little further without being told."
The Pleimans purchased a farm along Stelzer Road near Cassella in the 1940s. The excitement of the move quickly dissipated in the face of a tornado that struck just before bedtime. Strong winds buffeted the two-story house, only to be replaced by unnatural silence.
"One of the older boys who had been outside came running toward the house scared to death," Pleiman says. "I was standing in the dining room one minute and looking up at the sky the next. The whole second story was gone. If the tornado had come 10 minutes later, the younger children would have been up there."
The winds also leveled the barn and damaged part of the hog stable. Only a rickety garage slated for destruction escaped unscathed.
Pleiman moved his wife and family back to Osgood Then he and the older boys set to work repairing the tornado damage. The second homecoming definitely fared better than the first.
Sons and daughters married during the ensuing years and began families of their own. There were 49 grandchildren, including one deceased, when Margaret Pleiman died Dec. 29, 1976, with two more arriving between then and September 1986. The number of great-grandchildren stood at three but steadily increased over the years with the seven born this year meeting and surpassing the 100 mark. More arrivals are expected in 2005.
Pleiman is also a stepfather, stepgrandfather and stepgreat-grandfather. At the age of 75, he married Alice Mertz, a Celina resident he met while playing cards at a senior citizen gathering, and inherited a second family. He moved back to Cassella following her death in the mid-1990s and lived there until his admission to the nursing home in 2001.
"I'm not the oldest fellow here," he says. "There are two men (Alga Bruey and Bernard Dahlinghaus of Osgood) who have marked their 100th birthdays."
Longevity apparently runs in the Pleiman family as a brother, Robert, and a sister, Adel Gariety, both reached the century mark. He is not sure whether two more birthdays are in his future but remains adamant on another point.
"I have two great-great-grandchildren," he says proudly. "I definitely won't be around to hold the 100th unless God forgets about me being down here."