Thanksgiving. Some years, Randy Reimer?s birthday falls on that national holiday, since he was born on Nov. 25, 1928. Although his birthday wasn?t on Thanksgiving this year, he does hold the concept of gratitude in his heart.
?I thank and praise my Lord every morning and every evening,? Reimer said, sitting in an upstairs dining room at Newton Presbyterian Manor, with warm sunshine streaming through the windows. Today, he?s grateful even though he?s had his share of heartache throughout his lifetime.
The 85-year-old said he is grateful he lives at Presbyterian Manor, where they really accommodate the residents and where they let him bake on Wednesdays and Saturdays. He?s also happy the Manor allows him to have a container garden, where he grows produce, such as cucumbers, tomatoes and bell and jalapeno peppers.
?I grow so much that I give it away,? Reimer said. ?And the other thing I?m thankful for ? they give me a mud room,? where he does flower propagation.
?They say I have two green thumbs, and I don?t see it,? Reimer said, jokingly adding someday he might have to paint his thumbs that color.
However, when walking down the Presbyterian Manor halls, Reimer is quick to point out which flowers he?s put along the window ledges to get plenty of sunshine.
?Those are mine,? Reimer said, motioning to some flowers, and repeating numerous times, ?Those are mine. Those are mine.?
He had plenty of flowers to point out, many of which were geraniums.
As with his gardening and flower growing, Reimer shares the fruits of another one of his talents ? baking. At the Manor, he bakes up treats for residents on Wed?nesdays, when he makes cookies; on Saturdays, he?s been known to concoct cookies and zwiebach, a sweet Mennonite roll.
?You can?t tell me I don?t like to bake,? Reimer said. ?I love to bake. I have no problem giving things away.?
During the holidays, Reimer has been known to make New Year?s Cookies at the end of December. On one afternoon, he made 89.
Reimer?s love of baking came from his childhood, he said, as his mother was ill quite often, so she taught him how to bake, wash clothes and clean house. He also remembers with fondness how his mother would make zwiebachon Saturdays for Sunday guests. The tradition on Sunday was to set out bologna, cheese and zwiebach when neighbors and relatives visited ? a traditional faspa (light meal) in Low-German households. He said his wife, Ruby, kept up that tradition. Ruby passed away on Aug. 12, 2011.
?So I?m keeping up that tradition too,? Reimer said.
And Presbyterian Manor residents love his food. The 85-year-old used to cook bread, but he changed his menu.
?It?s cookies and zwiebach or nothing,? Reimer said. ?I so appreciate them letting me bake yet.?
Reimer wears a red striped apron with his name emblazoned across the top when he bakes. When he?s creating in the kitchen, residents come around, saying they?re ?following their noses? because of the delightful smells. Reimer said zwiebach smells very good in the oven. He also bakes a cookie that combines banana, raisins, peanuts and chocolate chips.
?It?s just called One Heck of a Good Cookie,? Reimer said, laughing.
Baking plays second fiddle to dominoes in Reimer?s life now.
?This is the love of my life,? Reimer said while playing dominoes with several other Manor residents, including Vicki Howard, Peggy Hwa and Lois Heintz while Evelyn Garrison watched.
In addition to his talents for playing dominoes and baking, Reimer is quick to remember dates. He said he?s resided at the Manor since January 2008, about a week after his heart surgery. That year was eventful for him physically, as he had total knee surgery on April 8 and fell and broke his hip July 28.
?It wasn?t that painful,? he said. ?I?m a tough kid, believe it or not.?
Four years before that, however, Reimer had a stroke, and something interesting happened. The stroke caused him to have increased brain function, he said. His doctor told him that happens to about one in 1,000 people who have strokes.
Along those lines, having a declining memory is the worst part of getting older, Reimer said. The best part of living a long life is not having diapers to change, kids to feed or having a family to support.
However, family is quite important to Reimer.
?Oh, I love my family,? Reimer said. ?They?re so precious to me. Wonderful, wonderful family.?
He and Ruby had four children ? Elaine, Donald, David and Edwin. He also has 10 grandchildren, two step-grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Four of the great-grandchildren were born between January and May this year. The grandchild who lives closest to Reimer, Matthew, resides in Santa Fe, N.M. Some of the other grandkids reside in Germany and Africa.
Family must be important to Reimer, since he resided on the family farm in rural Goessel for quite some time.
?I was born at the place that I lived for 79 years,? Reimer said. ?It was a place my grandparents homesteaded when they came over from Prussia.?
His grandfather on his mother?s side, Peter G. Pankratz, and wife, Sarah (Lowen), landed at Ellis Island in 1875. At the time, Santa Fe Railroad representatives were there to greet immigrants and offer them a ride to the train depot in Newton to check out farmland. His grandparents settled on 160 acres and paid about $2 per acre. In 1893, they built a new farmhouse. Reimer remembers reading something written on the house that stated the home was constructed by Peter Pankratz in 1893 for $3,000.
?It was very, very pricey,? Reimer said.
His grandfather was quite a determined man, Reimer said. For example, to attend school in Salina, each week he?d walk from his rural Goessel home to Salina, leaving on Sunday night and arriving on Monday.
When he was growing up, Reimer didn?t have to walk that far to school. He actually attended Springfield Grade School, which was in a convenient spot ? just on the other side of his driveway.
Reimer went from being a student to farming.
?I was a farmer ? a jack of all trades and a master of none,? he said.
Some of his crops included alfalfa, wheat and sorghum to make silage.
?I had 240 acres at one time,? Reimer said.
He also had dairy cows.
?At one time, I was very foolish,? said the retired farmer, shaking his head.
By that, he meant at one time, he tried to milk 115 cows two times a day with him, a hired man, Cornie Unruh, and family doing the work. It takes quite a lot of feed to keep that many cows producing.
?That?s quite a few cows to run through the barn,? Reimer said.
In 1968, Reimer sold more than 100 cows. After that auction, Reimer was able to buy a new Ford tractor, disc and drill, spring tooth harrow, pay the land mortgage and put $10,000 in CDs in the bank. However, he held back eight heifers, which ate all the $10,000 in the bank ?and then some,? Reimer said.
?Worst mistake I ever made,? Reimer said.
Around this time, wheat and other grain prices soared while milk did ?not go up one penny,? Reimer said.
?The Lord really did a good deal when he told me to get rid of that dairy,? Reimer said.
Even though it put food on the table, Reimer has one regret about farming.
?The sad part of all of (this) was that I didn?t have enough money to pay (son) David,? Reimer said.
So, David got a job at Iowa Beef Packers in Garden City and worked there until June 9, 1985. He was on his way to work on a Sunday when he was killed in a car accident.
?It was such a shock ? you have no idea,? Reimer said. ?Me and my wife got ulcers from that incident.?
Then in 2011, Reimer?s wife passed away.
?So she?s joined David, and I know they?re dancing up there,? said Reimer, who appears to still wear his wedding ring. ?I wish I were there too. I wish the Lord would take me too. I?m ready to go.?
After he sold the dairy, Reimer got a job at Hay and Forage in Hesston as a hydraulic brake operator, working on and off for about five years, starting in 1979. In 1983, he was laid off and then rehired in 1987, working there until 1990.
?(I) quit ?em on the spot,? Reimer said.
From there, he sold insurance for Penn Life from his home. Bob Goodman of Overland Park was his boss and trainer, and also was an agent himself. Goodman took Reimer under his wing like a son. In 1991, Reimer was named a top agent, and he and Ruby were flown to Orlando, Fla., for a big celebration.
?I got my Presidential Award, and Bob Goodman was there with us,? Reimer said. Goodman paid for them to go to Disney World, he added. ?And so (Goodman) says to me, ?Randy, you just keep selling insurance, and I?ll get you a vacation in Hawaii.??
Reimer and Ruby married on May 27, 1956, at a Mennonite church in Buhler.
Reimer, a Mennonite, isn?t really sure what to say about what he?s most proud of in his life, but he said he doesn?t know how he had the strength and time to get the things done he did, like building the dairy barn and a 110-foot-long concrete feed bunk that could feed 115 cows at one time. In 1954, he and neighbors started building the Reimers? home, completing it the next year. Maybe the strength came from above, which reflects Reimer?s philosophy on life: ?Life with the Lord is a very sure thing. He promises to never leave you or forsake you. And with him, there?s all power and strength.?
Photos and Story by?Wendy Nugent