In 1919, Woodrow Wilson was the President of the United States, the Great War had ended, the third wave of the Spanish Influenza epidemic was winding down and women did not yet have the right to vote. Model T's were on the roads and movies were still silent. Life expectancy was
53.5 years for men, 56 years for women. The two modern inventions were the zipper and the toaster.
Neosho resident Henry Kroon was born on October 25, 1919 in the small Dutch community of Sioux City, Iowa. Since he will celebrate his 100th birthday this week, he's far exceeded the life expectancy the year he was born.
Kroon was one of nine children with five brothers and three sisters. His parents, John and Wilhelmina Kroon were married on July 3, 1911.
"I have one brother left, my youngest brother," he said.
Although in that era, education stopped at eighth grade for many, Kroon completed high school.
"Mom's rule was you had to go to school, you had to go at least twelve years," he said. "And. you had to go to church."
On Sundays, they went to church in Sioux Center. "You went to church, you didn't skip schol. You didn't ask questions. No matter what you did on Saturday night, you went to church. Nothing was open on Sundays but the door of the church," he recalled. "There were very few automobiles then. They would come to church in buggies and sleighs in the winter."
Kroon's dad was a farmer and a thresherman. "He went out and threshed grain and corn."
He also planted corn in hills, with three corn per hill and spaced 24 inches apart. He also was involved in livestock and railroads.
"My dad bought cattle for Swifts and Company out of Sioux City," he said. "He loaded them in freight cars. The property was on the railroad line, was almost a feed lot. My dad had cattle, hogs, chickens, milk
His mother kept house, baking bread twice a week for the family, baking eight loaves each time. His grandmother, who lived down the street, also ate with them.
"If you didn't get there (to eat) on time, you didn't eat," he remembered. "But you could at least get a piece of bread."
"Mom would feed every hobo," he said. "But, they had to sit on the porch and eat, never in the house."
He recalls the children were kept busy.
"We peeled apples, cleaned beans," he said. One year, they canned 110 quarts of applesauce with apples from the orchard on their property.
After high school, Kroon went to work.
"I started out working after high school," he said. "I made $14 a week and paid my folks $3 for room and board."
Then Kroon joined the Navy and served for 4 years, 8 months as an electrician. His service overlapped with World War II. Kroon trained at Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois, the Navy's only boot camp facility. He served on the USS Bancroft, spending time in places that included Mindoro, one of the Philippine Islands. He also spent a year in the Aleutian Islands.
During the war years, Kroon was home on leave when his mother died in 1943.
"I got one extra day of leave to go to the funeral," he recalled. "My older brother (also in the service) had just left."
"I didn't want to do nothing after I returned from service," Kroon said with a smile.
He went to work for Younglove Construction, then on scales and he got married. He and his wife have been wed for 71 years.
"I met Gladys in Rock Valley, Iowa," he said. "I worked on the scales, she worked at the cafe. I ate both lunch and supper there."
They married in 1947 and went on a honeymoon to the Black Hills in South Dakota. They have two children, a daughter, Judy Lieberman and a son, Steve Kroon.
Kroon spent years building first wood, then concrete silos on site in many states including Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin and North Dakota. The family lived in a trailer and traveled to each work site until his daughter, Judy, was nine.
"I could be ready to go in thirty minutes," Gladys Kroon recalled. "Sometimes I had to be."
Kroon later worked in maintenance for a soybean processing plant for 25 years. He became head of maintenance, retiring in 1974.
"I've been retired for longer than I worked," he said.
Retirement didn't mean Kroon was idle. He became an active woodworker, making frames, clocks and scrollwork. He also made nativities. And, for twenty years, the couple headed south to the Brownsville and McAllen Texas area each winter. He loved traveling and some of his favorite places included California, Disneyland, Boston, Alaska and through the Southwest in a motor home.
"My favorite part was woodworking," he remembered. "I made nativities and sold a lot of nativities. I had orders for them all the time."
He also made eagles in two sizes, some as large as 54 inches with each feather a different color. At one time, they did a craft show each weekend.
Another project was to add family names to frames. His wife crocheted the names and he built the frames. "We did over 800 names, in frames."
In addition to woodworking, Kroon played golf in the afternoons and spent time remodeling the old house.
"My family called me "The Sawdust King," he said with a chuckle.
When asked how he reached 100 years of age, Kroon smiled.
"It's like you keep living," he said. "It's a big question. They talk about all that diet crap. I never did a diet."
One of the biggest changes he's seen is the amount of wages and prices. The first President he can remember is Herbert Hoover.
Kroon and his wife moved to Neosho about three years ago. They reside at Spring Hill Assisted Living.
When it came time to make a change - when the house became too big, the farm became too much - they choose to relocate to where their daughter, Judy, has lived for the past 19 years.
From his favorite chair, Kroon enjoys watching four bird feeders outside the window. He puts out scraps of bread and apples for the squirrels and the bluejays. There's also a groundhog he watches for daily. On the wall of their small apartment, a special quilt hangs in a place of honor. The quilt represents the whole family with pieces collected from family members. Their daughter put it together.
In honor of Kroon's centennial birthday, there will be an open house to celebrate from 2-4 p.m. on Saturday, October 26 at Spring Hill Assisted Living Center, located at 1105 Village Road in Neosho.
There will also be a private family gathering at Judy's home.
This week, as he turns 100, Kroon still has his lifelong sense of humor and loves to joke. He reminisces about playing baseball and basketball, learning to swim in the sandy pits and creeks in Iowa,
dances and that each year, his dad placed a star at the top of a big evergreen tree for Christmas. At one time, he made $110 a week.
"We lived pretty good on that," he said.
When he turns 100 later this week, Henry Kroon is still living the good life as he reaches a major milestone.
Happy birthday, Henry Kroon!