Clarence Marie Elkins celebrates 100 years; here are 1,000 words on her incredible life

There aren’t enough words to encapsulate 100 years of a life in this world.

Clarence Marie Elkins turned 100 on Friday last week and her family celebrated her birthday on Sunday.

Ms. Clarence Marie Elkins celebrated her 100th birthday this past weekend.

Ms. Elkins’ daughter, Diane Wininger, wrote this brief history of her mother’s incredible life.

Clarence Marie Elkins has spent her entire 100 years of life as a resident of Dubois County.

She is a descendant of Edmund Archer, a patriot of the Revolutionary War.

She was born on her grandparents’ (Kinder and Alvretta Wineinger) farm near Hillham. Her mother was Ora Archer Wineinger. Her father, Clarence Wineinger, was accidentally shot at the farm during a chivaree to celebrate his wedding. He died a few hours later. Since Marie didn’t ever meet her father she was named after him.

She and her mother lived on the farm until her mother remarried 10 years later. She remained with her grandparents on the farm. She attended Hillham, Brush College, Cuzco, Emmons Ridge, and Crystal schools, attending high school at Cuzco. She walked to school most of the time.

Her grandfather had to walk her at times because she ate her crayons. 

Growing up on the farm with her grandparents was a far cry from how we live today. It was a working farm so during the depression they had plenty to eat. She remembers going with her grandmother in the horse and wagon to French Lick to take milk to the train station where it went to their buyers. They also took garden food to many people in French Lick that were in dire need and trade for some small thing they might have so it wouldn’t be charity. People were proud. She said her grandmother left her in the wagon on one of the steep hills in French Lick while her grandmother delivered food to people. She said she was very afraid the horses would take off down the hill.

She had to gather eggs and says she was afraid to crawl back into some of the nests. Their dog would go bring the cows in for the night to the barn. They had a saltbox house with a summer kitchen, spring house, and smokehouse. They had no electricity or running water. The iceman would bring ice blocks around in the summer. They had large gardens and did lots of canning and butchering.

Since there were no hotels along the way, many traveling people would stop and spend the night at the farm. People also came from miles around during sorghum making time to buy sorghum. She remembers many stories told by the travelers.

Back in time before she was born, during the smallpox epidemic, they brought sick people to the house. Some of the people who died from smallpox were buried in shallow graves on the hill until later. Years after the bodies were reburied in a cemetery, some children were playing in the dirt of the graves. One boy developed smallpox from the grave and became blind.

With the house being heated by stoves, they heated bricks and placed at the foot of their beds. She often slept with her grandmother. 

William and

She married William H. Elkins of Crystal on Dec. 1, 1942. They had five children, David, Ronnie, Gordon, Garry and Diane. They bought a property near Crystal and that is where they raised their family and lived. After getting married, the US was in the middle of World War II. Her husband, William joined the Navy and was shipped off after training at Treasure Island, Calif. He was a gunner on the merchant marine ship, USS Winslow.

His convoy was one of the Murmask Run to Russia, a very dangerous and deadly mission.

She was at home with a baby. William was going to be on leave for a few days in New York City and had her to take a train to come and meet him in Grand Central Station. She made it with a little help from people along the way.

She said when the train arrived in Baltimore she told the conductor that her husband told her to stay on the train till she got to Grand Central Station. The conductor said “I don’t know what to tell you lady but this is the end of the line.” He then helped her to change trains.

William had sent her a map of New York. While he was there, they went to Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall to see the Rockettes. She said she sent him a fruit cake for Christmas once and it crossed the ocean to England two times trying to catch up with him.

She said it may still be traveling and laughed.

Years later he said, “your maw always would put on lipstick and seal her letters to me with a kiss”.

That meant everything to him.

After one run to Murmask, William was in England. The ship began to leave again. The men were not told until later that they were on another run to Murmask. He said everyone’s heart sunk. He said it was so cold in the White Sea that one never could get warm, even in fur lined pants. They slept in hammocks. They were also frozen for two weeks in the White Sea and they had 24 hours of dark.

She went back to visit New York City to Grand Central Station on the train with her daughter for her 86th birthday.

She always attended church. Hillham and Crystal where she is a founding member of the Crystal Church. She was always a song leader, sang in the choir, taught children and adult classes and directed Christmas plays.

She and William sang in the Crystal Choir that had a bus and traveled southern Indiana. She always was active in the community helping others. She sang in the Purdue Extension Choir of Dubois County. She was a 4-H and Girl Scout leader and had an active role in the Crystal Community Club. She was a tour guide at the West Baden Dome for several years and retired at 80.

Times were different, much different than today. Much has changed since her birth in 1921.
Although she’s been battling dementia for a few years, she’s been living in her own house with her daughter helping her. She’s still pretty sarcastic and will hurl jokes at you from time to time.
She’s always been spunky and now, you just don’t mess with grandma. 

3 Comments

  1. I can envision every step of this woman’s journey, instilling in contemporary readers gratitude for the present. Thank you, Diane Wininger.

  2. Wow what an inspirational lady I’m employed at the nursing she is residing at Marie is such a joy to be around. Very funny little lady, God Bless Her!!

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