It was 100 years ago that a baby named Kenneth was enjoying his first full day on his own.
The first scheduled airline flight was taking off in Florida, flying from St. Petersburg to Tampa. Henry Ford was introducing an assembly line for his Model T. The company jumps wages from $2.40 for a nine-hour day to $5 for an eight-hour day. Charlie Chaplin debuted “The Tramp” in “Kid Auto Races at Venice.”
Ken Krotzman doesn’t remember those first days and months, but he remembers most things from his now-100-year life. With a sharp mind and sparkling eyes, he looks and acts nowhere near 100 years old. But he was born Feb. 11, 1914, near New Lisbon, about two miles from town in the Twin Bluffs area. He said the house is no longer there.
“I started at the Little Red School,” he said. “I don’t know why they called it that. The outhouse was red, so maybe the school started out red. I was born on a farm in the town of Lisbon.
“We grew what was the general run of things then – oats, corn, hay, buckwheat. Corn for the horses; we had two horses. We had a tractor. It was a Fordson, I think. It was gray. We had 10 to 12 cows and young stock, chickens. No hogs. We butchered some.”
Krotzman walked to school every day, but he said it wasn’t too bad.
“It was only a mile from our house to the post office,” he said with a chuckle. “I even went home for lunch sometimes – if I ran fast.”
After graduating high school, he attended the county normal – or teacher’s – college. He also attended the University of Wisconsin for a year.
“I taught for a year,” he said. “Then I went to the CCC camp. I worked mostly in the office there. I worked for a civilian doctor we had on hand. He was the best old guy. He even showed me how to sew up people. They’d come in with wounds and such when he wasn’t there, and I’d sew them up. That was during ’34 and ’35.”
From that came a job with the railroad – the Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul-Pacific, which no longer exists.
“I worked there 39 years,” he said. “I started in 1936 and stopped in 1975. I started out building bridges and was later promoted to foreman of a bridge crew. We’d repair buildings and bridges on branch lines. They eventually dried up, though. I spent quite a bit of time on the pontoon bridge at Prairie du Chien. That was quite an outfit. There was quite a lot of work and workers. They had to keep it level, so if the water went up, they had to lower the pontoon. The pontoon was basically just a boat. The mechanics were on hand to raise and operate it. They sold it in 1950 and it went out. They sold it to Lansing, Iowa, for a fishing pier.”
Krotzman loved to fish and hunt – hunted deer every year. And he did a little woodworking. He wasn’t in the armed forces because his job was designated an essential job during the war.
But the longest-lasting part and the portion of his life that brings a big smile to his face began in 1945.
“I was going fishing,” he said. “It was too dry around, so I went down a ditch on a back street. I was digging worms when I met her. She was following me.”
“You were following me!” said Arlene, his wife of almost 67 years. “I was walking to work.”
She ran a linotype in New Lisbon. The worm digging was going on behind her house.
Two years later the couple was married, May 3, 1947.
“It was my mom and dad’s 42nd anniversary,” Arlene Krotzman said.
What’s the secret of remaining married for 67 years?
“I was only home weekends,” the centenarian said. “I’d get home, be home Saturday and Sunday, and then go back Sunday afternoon.”
The two enjoyed their weekends.
“We’d go to dances with friends,” Arlene Krotzman said. “They used to have dance halls. We used to go out to the Bluffs; that was the main entertainment on Saturday nights.”
The two said they often went to River Bend, which was halfway between New Lisbon and Mauston.
“There’s nothing there now,” she said. “It was a bar plus food. It was a nice place.”
The couple had three children – Jim in 1949, Kathy in 1950 and Timothy in 1956. Jeff was stillborn in 1954.
“A guy was here to sell us a TV that night,” Arlene Krotzman said of Jeff’s birth. “I was starting labor and he didn’t want to leave.”
But they did buy the television, which was, of course, black and white. Ken Krotzman remembered the first television he ever saw, a bit of time before that.
“It was down the line a ways,” he said. “They had this contraption set up. The screen was all green.”
On their first TV, favorite shows were Ed Sullivan and Gunsmoke.
“We listened to Barn Dance on the radio,” Ken Krotzman said. “We had an old Silvertone radio with three big dials and two smaller dials. You had to fiddle with it to no end to get anything on the dang thing.”
Today he likes to read newspapers and books. He likes sports. Football – the Packers, of course. Basketball and baseball. The Badgers and the Brewers.
“It doesn’t seem like 100 years,” he said. “You can’t connect things through that. You just live this. The main thing is to stay really sharp.”
The most important thing he’s learned? That took a few moments of thought.
“I guess getting along with other people,” he said. “I ran a crew for years, and had to do that. You need to get along. Plus I always figure to not do anything to excess.”
This Sunday the two are celebrating that 100-year mark with a birthday party at the house they’ve lived in since 1948.
“We still do everything for ourselves,” Arlene Krotzman said. “Except getting ready for this party – we have help with that.”
The party will be an open house with cake, coffee and punch.
“Anybody who would like to come is invited,” she said.
There will be another party at her 100th birthday in nine years, and at Ken’s 110th birthday. As young as the two of them appear and act, don’t bet against it.
Happy Birthday, Ken!