Pilzno (SNR) - The year was 1906. That year, the Dow Jones Index closed above 100 for the first time; the Wright Brothers patented the airplane; there were 45 United States; Theodore Roosevelt was president; Pope St. Pius X was the successor of St. Peter; Bishop Thomas Bonacum was the Ordinary of the Diocese of Lincoln; the cost of a first-class stamp was 2 cents and the average American life expectancy was 47 years.
It was on June 17, 1906 that Valeria (Lisko) Smolenski was born near Pilzno. Mrs. Smolenski celebrated her 105th birthday June 19 with an open house at the Legion club in Silver Creek.
Mrs. Smolenski has been a member of the same parish - St. Mary in Pilzno - her entire life. Still very independent, Mrs. Smolenski lives in her own home, taking care of most of her daily needs. A son, Henry, lives a half-mile from his mother and checks in on her every day. Her daughter Rosaline also makes weekly visits to care for her mother.
At her open house, Mrs. Smolenski reflected upon her 105 years and the role that the Catholic faith has played in her life and that of her family.
Her father John Lisko was born in Poland in 1877 and immigrated with his family to the United States as an infant. Mrs. Smolenski’s mother Katherine Kontor was born in 1881 near Pilzno. John and Katherine were married at St. Mary Church in Pilzno in 1901. They had nine children. Mrs. Smolenski is the third of the nine children. She has one remaining sister, Regina, who is 92.
In addition to farming, her father John was the road overseer for a number of years for Valley Precinct in Polk County. He graded roads with a pull-type road grader.
Thus, Mrs. Smolenski and her siblings had to do much of the farm work. "My brother and I had to take care of the fences and the cattle," she said. "It was very hard work, digging post holes and tamping the dirt around the fence posts.
"We did the work that had to be done," she added.
Mrs. Smolenski received her education at a one-room country school a half-mile from her parents’ farm.
"We walked the half-mile to school each day because we could walk faster than the horses," she said.
The present St. Mary Church was constructed in 1912 when Mrs. Smolenski was 6 years old. She was a member of the first class to receive their First Holy Communion in the new church.
On October 30, 1928, Valeria Lisko married Louis Smolenski in St. Mary Church. They moved to a home on the farm homesteaded by Louis’s father. It was just a short move for Mrs. Smolenski - less than a mile down the road from where she grew up. For 105 years she has lived within a half-mile of where she was born. Today she lives in the same farmhouse where she and her husband Louis moved to after they were married nearly 83 years ago.
As a farm wife, Mrs. Smolenski worked alongside her husband in the fields. Most work then was hard manual labor, done by hand. In addition to planting and cultivating row crops with horse-drawn equipment, Mrs. Smolenski raised chickens and other poultry, took care of livestock and tended a large garden. Her house was also surrounded by large flower gardens that she tended.
"I husked corn by hand and scooped ear corn into corn cribs," Mrs. Smolenski said. "We did not have a tractor." "We also put up hay by hand which was labor intensive," she added.
Many elements of life which people consider necessities today were luxuries for most of her life.
"We did not get electricity on the farm until the 1950s," Mrs. Smolenski said. "At night we read by kerosene lamp." "It was my job to clean the lamps."
Modern amenities have made farm life much easier. "In farming everything has changed dramatically," Mrs. Smolenski said. "Electricity has made life so much easier."
Technology and mechanization have also changed farm life drastically.
"Tractors have made fieldwork so much easier," she said. "With the tractor, I did not have to harness horses anymore."
Mrs. Smolenski and her husband Louis had four children: MaryAnn Loseke, Rosaline Yrkoski, Henry and Edwin (deceased). She has six grandchildren, two step-grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren, three step-great-grandchildren and one step-great-great grandchild.
In 1947, Louis died, leaving Mrs. Smolenski with four young children. Sons Henry, then 15, and Edwin, 11, quit school to work on the farm. Edwin lived with his mother until his death five years ago at the age of 69.
In addition to being a farm wife and mother, Mrs. Smolenski’s life has been closely identified with the Catholic Church and in particular her parish, St. Mary at Pilzno.
Pilzno is a crossroads in Polk County north of Osceola, which was settled by Polish immigrants. It was named after the Polish town, Pilzno.
Mrs. Smolenski was baptized, received her first Communion and the Sacrament of Confirmation, and was married in St. Mary Church.
She filled many leadership roles in the Altar Society and other church organizations. In her lifetime, St. Mary Parish has had 19 pastors.
"I enjoyed working with each of them," she said. I got along with all of them."
For many years Mrs. Smolenski was a member of St. Mary’s choir.
"When I sang in the choir the hymns were in Latin," she said. "For me, I enjoyed it when the Mass was said in English because I could understand it."
One of Mrs. Smolenski’s pastimes was raising flowers. For many decades she brought flowers to church to adorn the altars. She arranged flowers in the church until she was 95.
"I quit because they told me I shouldn’t stand on a chair anymore to do that," she said with a chuckle.
At 95, Mrs. Smolenski suffered a broken hip. Doctors pinned the hip but because she has soft bones, the pin slipped out of place. The doctors wanted to reoperate but she said no. Although she walks with a slight limp, she gets around her home with the assistance of a walker. With the help of a microwave oven she still prepares her meals and cleans her house.
Mrs. Smolenski keeps herself busy each day by embroidering, reading and praying. She prays three or four rosaries each day. "I have a lot to pray for," she said.
An avid reader, Mrs. Smolenski had cataract surgery at age 95 and can see "better than I ever did." She likes to keep up on contemporary events. She does not watch television because "there is nothing good on television." She reads four weekly newspapers: the Southern Nebraska Register; the Osceola Record; the Fullerton Record; the Central City Republican and one daily newspaper, The Columbus Telegram, "cover to cover." She also likes to read Westerns and play cards. She sews every day, making tea towels and quilt boxes. She has made quilts for each of her grandchildren.
Her pastor, Father James Cooper, brings her Holy Communion each week.
Her family is grateful to the Lord for her long life. It gives successive generations the chance to know their grandmother and great-grandmother.
"We all think it is pretty amazing that she is 105 years old," granddaughter MaryAnn Gabel of Lincoln said. "I still go to her for advice and for her wisdom," she said.