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Hilda Little's life became infinitely easier when her family moved to Toledo's Old South End 65 years ago.
For the first time, at the age of 35, she had electricity, indoor plumbing, and a telephone.
On Saturday Mrs. Little celebrated her 100th birthday one day early at a neighborhood fund-raiser for the Viva South Toledo Community Development Corporation.
Wearing a blouse she made herself, Mrs. Little listened to proclamations from politicians recognizing her long life and accepted flowers from her family. About 35 of the 125 people at the Viva fund-raiser were there solely to wish her a happy birthday, Mrs. Little's daughter, Flora Moore, said.
The birthday party and the fund-raiser were combined because Mrs. Moore has been a board member of Viva and its predecessor, Heritage South Toledo, for 15 years.
Viva raised $3,550 at Saturday night's party, called Gala in the Garden, on the lawn by the Sofia Quintero Art and Cultural Center. The group was seeking $5,000 to pay for an audit of its finances - required for some grants - and repairs at its headquarters. Viva wants grants to renovate and build new homes in the neighborhood where many families are struggling financially.
For Mrs. Little, Saturday's event was the biggest birthday party she'd ever had. It was to be followed with a traditional family party Sunday, on her birthday.
Her secret to becoming a centenarian? "Just a lot of hard work," she said.
Mrs. Little grew up on a 160-acre farm in central Illinois near Nokomis. She was the youngest of seven children born to Henry and Henrietta DeWerff; one sister died at age 9 before Mrs. Little was born.
When she was about 21, she married Clarence Little, a coal miner who was boarding in her family's farmhouse. After living in Wisconsin and Illinois, the couple and their two young children followed Mrs. Little's parents to a larger farm near the tiny crossroads community of Finley, Wis.
The central Wisconsin area was much more rural than where Mrs. Little had grown up and money was tight. Mrs. Little made almost all of her family's clothes - sewing always was her favorite household task - and sewed for neighbors too, often trading her work for fruit or meat.
Preserving and preparing food took much of her time in Finley, which had not yet been connected to electricity. Mrs. Little canned 500 quarts a year, including much venison. Her farmhouse was home to many relatives during the Depression. For a few months, 14 people lived there.
Mrs. Little never learned to drive and often felt stranded in Finley, which had only about six houses in "town," her son, Clarence Little, said. Although Finley had a little store, when Mrs. Little shopped for groceries, which was rare - most of the family's food came from their farm, she typically traveled 14 miles to Necedah.
The closest high school was so far from their farm that the children would have boarded with another family. That was one reason why, when their son was in the eighth grade, the Littles moved to Toledo, where Mr. Little worked with his wife's sister's husband in the former City Auto Parts auto repair shop.
Probably the hardest time in Finley for Mrs. Little was when she cared for her ailing mother for months before she died of cancer.
Years later in Toledo, she cared for her husband at home before he died at age 64.
Before his death, Mrs. Little retired from an 18 1/2-year career with the former Lasalle & Koch Co. department store in downtown Toledo, where she made alterations and sold women's coats.
She continued to bake about three pies a day for her daughter's Dutch Maid restaurant at 1621 Broadway until it closed in 1975.
When she was in her 80s, Mrs. Little took legal guardianship of a great-granddaughter who was in high school.
She has often remarked to her children of her pride in that great-granddaughter, now Christie Yenice, who lived with her while she graduated from high school and then college and became a teacher. She moved out of Mrs. Little's house when she married.
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