With Covered Bridge Health Campus residents and staff members gathered in the dining area Wednesday, it was time to celebrate a milestone.
Helen Hardesty and Dennis Durkoop sat in chairs at a table with two cakes in front of them and a banner on the wall behind them.
Hardesty’s cake was trimmed in pink and green, while Durkoop’s had light blue trim.
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The writing on the cakes, the candles and the wording on the banner gave away the reason for the celebration: Both were turning 100.
Hardesty’s birthday was that day, and Durkoop’s 100th birthday is today.
Everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to them before they blew out the candles and the cakes were cut.
“I had to ask them what it was for. I didn’t realize it was my birthday,” Hardesty said. “I thought it was real nice of them.”
Durkoop said he made it to 100 because of good genes and a good diet. Turning 100, though, gave him reason to splurge and eat a piece of cake.
“I was just so surprised, and I just didn’t realize that anybody would think about me to that extent,” he said of the birthday party. “Oh, I’m just so appreciative of them. I’m just so surprised.”
Hardesty has been a resident at the Seymour facility for three years, while Durkoop has been there for two years.
Hardesty was born in North Dakota, later moved to Illinois and then around age 8 moved with her family to Indiana. They lived in the country between Commiskey and Dupont, and she went to school in Dupont.
She said she had always wanted to be a nurse, but she wound up marrying William Hardesty when she was 20.
Later, when her two kids started school, she went to work at North Vernon Elementary School in the cafeteria. She said her day started early in the morning and ended at 2:30 p.m., and early on, she got paid $1 for a week.
Hardesty wound up moving to the high school cafeteria, going from the old location to the new one when a new building was constructed.
While she loved baking yeast rolls and snickerdoodles and making other homemade food for the students, everyone’s favorite was the peanut better, which came in a gallon jug and was mixed with butter, honey and powdered sugar.
“My husband loved that peanut butter,” Hardesty said.
Wherever she worked, people preferred to eat foods she made.
“I could cook in any school, and they’d be like, ‘We want Helen,’” she said, smiling. “I’d work anywhere in the kitchen — the cooking or whatever had to be done.”
Her family also liked her cooking.
“I did three-fourths of the cooking if there were three or four families on a picnic,” she said.
In the summertime, Hardesty managed a dollar store in North Vernon for three years, and she also worked at a quail hatchery at the old state park in North Vernon.
She ended up retiring from the school cafeteria after more than 25 years. Then she and William enjoyed traveling and fishing. There were times when they would go crappie fishing in Florida, return home and then go to Michigan for salmon fishing.
“I went fishing a lot,” she said, smiling.
The Hardestys had been married for 68 years when William died in 2000.
In 2012, Helen became a resident at Shields House in Seymour. Then she moved to Covered Bridge in 2017. Her granddaughter who works there and her daughter who lives in North Vernon both were at Wednesday’s party, and her great-great-grandson who lives nearby often comes to see her.
Of making it to 100, Helen gave away her secret.
“I didn’t smoke. I didn’t drink liquor of any kind or beer. I didn’t even like beer. My husband did, though,” she said, smiling. She also said she worked outdoors a lot to stay active.
Durkoop grew up in Seattle, Washington, and lived there until entering the U.S. Army Air Forces in December 1941.
He had an administrative role and was based in Biloxi, Mississippi.
“I enlisted for three years,” he said. “Uncle Sam, he took good care of me.”
After his service ended, he went to Butler University in Indianapolis, where he earned a business administration degree.
His first job was with Prudential Insurance Co. in Seymour, and he worked there for 30 years.
Upon retirement, he enjoyed going on vacations.
“I went down to Florida. I had friends there, and they invited us to come down there,” he said.
In terms of living a long life, Durkoop said he’s fortunate to have been raised well by his parents. After his father died, his mother had to raise him and his two brothers during the Great Depression, and she had to get a job in a canning factory.
“She would put us to bed at 10 o’clock at night, go to work, come back after she got off work at 4 or 5 in the morning and got us ready for school,” he said. “I’m very, very fortunate that I had my mother to raise us. During the depression years, everything was rough going.”