A century ago, she was the Baby New Year

By on January 7, 2015

Happy 100th birthday, Anna Yerger!

Anna Yerger reflects on her 100 years of learning, teaching and living in Lititz. (photo by Katie Grisbacher)

Anna Yerger reflects on her 100 years of learning, teaching and living in Lititz. (photo by Katie Grisbacher)

On Jan. 1, 1915, Jacob and Florence Bomberger of Lititz happily welcomed a baby girl. A century later, friends and family of Anna Ruth Bomberger Yerger gathered to celebrate Anna and the joy she continues to bring to their lives at 100 years of age.

“Anna has always amazed me,” said Rev. Dean Jurgen of Lititz Moravian Church, where Anna has been a member since her marriage to Roy Yerger in 1939. “She tells one story right after another with great joy, great humor, and a crystal clear memory about things that happened a long time ago. She tells a story with a smile on her face and with a joy of remembering.”

Anna delights in telling stories from her hundred years, especially about growing up in Rothsville, her mother’s focus on education, and her own career as a teacher at John Beck and Rothsville elementary schools.

“My mother was a teacher, and every evening, we had to do our lessons with her, read or whatever. If she couldn’t, then my brother, who was two years older, did it. Academics were a main stress in our home.”

The hard work paid off, with both Anna and Harry graduating as valedictorians from Rothsville, and Anna as valedictorian of Millersville State Teachers’ College, class of 1936.

“I think it was because we had a lot of encouragement,” says Anna. “We never thought we couldn’t. We did, and we always had a sense of achievement.”

Anna took her parents’ encouragement to heart and shares it with others, including Lorraine Roberts, who taught with Anna from 1966 to 1977 at Rothsville Elementary School, and looked up to the veteran teacher as a mentor.

“She was a guide for me, believe me. When I needed some advice, I’d think of Anna,” she said.

Friend Carla-Donna Martin appreciates a motto Anna has often shared:

“When you go through trials in life, sometimes you just have to rearrange your thinking.”

“She’s optimistic,” agreed Clarence Martin. “I’ve never seen her pessimistic. I’ve never seen her mad. She always wears a smile, looks on the bright side, complimenting others.”

Liz Jurgen’s memories go back to her childhood in the 1950s, when “Mrs. Yerger” was her Sunday school teacher at Lititz Moravian.

“She was so devoted and just so sweet with all the kids,” Jurgen recalled. “We had such a large class, and that room was filled. But she was always so kind-hearted and engaging. Over the years when I’d come back to visit, she always was so interested in what I was doing. She’s amazing.”

“She’s an inspiration,” agreed friend Kim Barrabas.

Anna Ruth Bomberger Yerger was born Jan. 1, 1915, to parents Jacob Bollinger Bomberger and Florence Amanda Rudy Bomberger. The family lived and worked at a series of farms including the Hummer farm on Lincoln Road, the Stauffer farm on the northeast corner of Koser Road, the Burkholder farm on Lincoln Road, and the Henry Myers farm at 33 Picnic Woods Road in Rothsville, where Anna spent most of her early years.

“My father worked these farms ‘for the half,’” Anna explained, “meaning the family kept 50 percent of the proceeds.”

Farm living was hard, with lots of work and few conveniences, yet rewarding for this close-knit family.

“A large meadow separated our farm from the main street in Rothsville, and fields separated us from the nearest farm neighbors,” remembers Anna. “So there was a real bond between my brother Harry, my parents, and me. Harry and I were not only brother and sister, but were inseparable partners in so many endeavors at home, school and the Lutheran church in town.”

Anna and Henry attended the Rothsville school, where younger grades met on the first floor and high school classes on the second, with an auditorium that served as a basketball court. There was an outhouse with about five private compartments, and a hand-operated water pump in the school.

Renovations in 1925 brought great improvements: indoor toilets, additional classrooms, a small library, a science laboratory for experiments, fountains for drinking water, and a gymnasium with an asphalt floor.

In 1928, the Bomberger family moved into town, Rothsville. The house at 2117 Main Street had a few modern conveniences &tstr; electricity and a coal-fired hot water furnace in the cellar &tstr; but water was still drawn by hand pump on the back porch, the kitchen dry sink had no drain, the stove was fueled by kerosene, and there was no other inside plumbing.

Anna’s father went to work delivering farm implements for Willis Gochenauer, across the street from Wilbur Chocolate. During this time, he contracted typhoid and was seriously ill for three months.

“Because of my father’s illness and no income, all of us found a way to help with finances,” writes Anna in a memoir written with her son, John Yerger. “Our next door neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Ginder, supervised and managed a garment factory behind their house. They saw our need and decided that mother could have a sewing machine to be placed in our dining room. It was there that she would sew collars and belts, and Harry and I would turn them right-side-out after being sewed. We were frugal and managed to meet our financial needs.”

Young Anna took many jobs to earn money for college &tstr; preparing meals at a boarding house for teachers, managing household chores for a neighboring family whose mother was ill, and working at a garment factory in Ephrata.

Harry went off to Swarthmore College to study languages, while Anna chose to attend Millersville State Teachers’ College, commuting all four years from Rothsville to Millersville, catching rides with other students or teachers going her way.

One year, she didn’t have a good ride, so she commuted with her father, who by this time worked for Bayuk’s Tobacco Warehouse on North Prince Street in Lancaster. She awoke at 5:00 every morning, drove in with her father, and walked several blocks to catch the bus to Millersville.

“I was on campus by 7:00, when the other students were having their breakfast,” she said.

Anna’s teaching career began in 1936 with the opening of John Beck Elementary School, where she was one of five teachers and taught a class of second and third grade students. She earned $100 per month, with $4 set aside for her retirement fund. Anna writes in her memoir:

I completed nine years, three (1936-1939) as Miss Bomberger, and six (1939-1945) as Mrs. Yerger. My original contract stated that marriage would annul the contract. After three years of teaching, and having my college debt paid, and in the threshold of World War II, Roy and I decided that marriage would be in order. But that contract!

I spoke to my high school principal, Mr. F. F. Bailey, who had become County Superintendent of Schools. He assured me that there would be no problem, but I had to meet with the Board of Directors first. The directors had no objection to marriage, provided that I didn’t miss school, so Roy and I quickly set (a wedding date of) April 6, 1939, the Maundy Thursday before Easter… As the 6th was a teaching day, I taught on my wedding day.

In a quiet, private wedding in the Lititz Moravian Church, we were married at 6:30 p.m. by the Rev. Byron Horne. My Grandmother Rudy lived close by, so we joined members of the family there before we left for our planned trip … to Winston-Salem (where we would) join the Moravians there for the Easter services.

Though Anna was born and raised Lutheran, her mother (a Rudy) was Moravian. When she and Roy married, her Rudy family said, “Your mother and your husband are Moravian, you’re two-thirds Moravian, you can’t do anything about it!” So Anna joined the Moravian church, soon followed by her father, who had come from a Mennonite background.

Anna taught during the war years, during which time teachers had charge of ration card registration and distribution. Roy contributed to war efforts through his business, Yerger Bros., producing airplane propellers and army cots. They built a new home at 201 S. Locust St. (now home to Pots by de Perrot studio and gallery). Anna taught until the birth of her son, John, in 1945. But as soon as John left for college in 1964, she jumped right back in, this time to her old stomping grounds at Rothsville Elementary, where she taught for the next 12 years.

“When I started teaching at Rothsville in 1971, I taught fourth grade, and Anna taught third grade,” remembers Barbara Schulz. “She was so sweet to me and understanding, and helped me in all kinds of ways, not just teaching. So I have treasured her friendship for all of those years.”

Friends chat with Anna Yerger during a 100th birthday party on Saturday, Jan. 3, at Moravian Manor, hosted by her son and daughter-in-law, John and MaryLee Yerger. (photo by Katie Grisbacher)

Friends chat with Anna Yerger during a 100th birthday party on Saturday, Jan. 3, at Moravian Manor, hosted by her son and daughter-in-law, John and MaryLee Yerger. (photo by Katie Grisbacher)

Anna treasures friendship as well and often tells visitors in a poem:

Friendship’s house is made of gold,

Its doors are open wide,

And love and trust and happiness

Are ever found inside.

It’s in the city of the heart

Where skies shine all year through,

For friendship’s house is made of gold

For precious friends like you.

On turning 100, Anna thinks back on a saying she learned long ago:

God gave us memories so we can have roses in December.

“So, now we pick our roses.”

Happy 100th birthday, Anna Yerger.

Katie Grisbacher is a freelance writer and editor living in Lititz. She welcomes your comments at kgrisbacher@gmail.com.


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