Haaland Estates resident celebrates 101st birthday
When Bill Godman Jr. was born, Woodrow Wilson sat in the White House, millions of doughboys had just returned from duty in World War I and doctors made house calls.
“I was born May 26, 1920,” Godman said from his seat in the Haaland Estates dining room the day after his 101st birthday. “I was born at home on the farm. The doctor made house calls then.”
Godman spent all but two and a half years of his life on the family farm, which he said lies “five miles north and one mile west of Churchs Ferry.”
Godman said his earliest memory of life on the farm was “nothing specific, just living on the farm and when I got old enough, going to work on the farm. My dad was a worker himself so he worked us kids from the time we were old enough to work, milking cows and all that sort of stuff, hauling hay and putting it in the barn.”
Farm living still afforded Godman and his brother a little time for fun, though.
“In the wintertime, my brother and I would go skiing and sledding,” Godman said. But we didn’t have a car or any money. We couldn’t go anywhere. We didn’t go to shows or anything like that. We manufactured our own fun.”
Godman attended school from kindergarten through his senior year of high school in one building.
“I graduated from Irvine Consolidated School, right in the middle of Irvine Township in Benson County,” Godman said. “Our school was so small you had to duck to go in there almost,” he added with a smile.
Godman participated in sports while attending school, “mostly baseball,” he said. I played an awful lot of baseball when I was young but not much more. I played a little bit of basketball.”
Godman said he’s always been a Minnesota Twins fan. A Twins insignia topped his birthday cake this year.
Although Godman stayed on the farm most of his life, historical events still affected him and his family.
He remembers the Dust Bowl years well. “You bet I can remember the Dirty Thirties,” Godman said. “I remember the wind and dust and haze and lots of bad things. The cattle had to be herded by me because there was no grass in the pasture. I herded them out. We had some grass in the pasture, but not enough to keep them going. We put up hay for them when we could. I was a little young for that but I helped anyway,” he said, adding, “Things got better in 1937.”
Godman said his family mostly farmed with horses and with their hands when he was young. His father bought their first tractor in 1935.
When the United States declared war on the Axis forces in 1941, Godman and many young men from North Dakota reported to Fort Snelling, Minnesota.
“A bunch of us went to Fort Snelling and took our physicals and they told us to go home,” Godman said. “Then I got a letter from the draft board, which most of our boys did, and the letter said, ‘You’re Class A and you can’t go.'”
Godman and other farmers received draft deferments due to their critical role supplying the nation with food.
Godman said he remembered civilian life well during the war. “My dad had to get a certificate or permission to buy tires,” Godman recalled. “You couldn’t buy a car. Luckily, Dad bought a tractor before the war. So, we weren’t too bad off.”
In 1946, Godman married Elaine Lorenz, who had grown up in Lawton Township, east of Devils Lake. The Godmans’ marriage lasted until Elaine’s death 63 years later.
Elaine and Bill had five children, “two boys and three girls,” Godman said. “They all grew up on the farm.”
“They got college educations and got jobs away from home and they have homes of their own,” Godman added. “Richard lives in Devils Lake, Don in Cando, Cindy lives in Rugby and I have one in Minneapolis, Barbara. Judith lives in Catawissa, Pennsylvania.”
Godman said his daughter Judith’s last name is Lease and Barbara’s last name is Kluzak. His daughter, Cindy Schwartz, lives in Rugby, where she works in the business office at Heart of America Medical Center.
” I have six grandchildren and one great-grandchild,” Godman said.
A coloring page filled in with green marker by Godman’s great-grandson, Nathan Veit, hangs on the door to Godman’s room. The page reads, “Happy 100th Birthday!”
“I rent my farm out now,” Godman added. “I have 500 acres under water. What’s left I rent out to my neighbor.”
The land in the Churchs Ferry area has been prone to flooding for more than 20 years.
Godman moved to Haaland Estates two and a half years ago after a fall on the ice. He had already given up driving his car and tractor because of poor eyesight.
He settled in to life at the facility, made some new friends and discovered he’s good at beanbag toss games “even with my poor eyesight,” he said. Godman also loves a good game of bingo.
Godman called the technological advances he’s seen on the farm and elsewhere over the century “tremendous.”
Does he have a secret to a long life?
“I can’t really answer that because I don’t know,” he answered. Godman said his father died at age 90. His brother lived 94 years and his mother died at age 80. “I don’t know why I’ve lived this long,” he said, adding, “I never smoked or drank, either one.” Godman said he has been an active member of the Methodist church all his life.
Keeping close connections to his children and family might also explain his longevity, according to Haaland Estates Activities Director Tammy Tufte.
“He gets emails almost every day from his kids and we read them to him and he gets very emotional,” Tufte said. “Every day he gets phone calls from his children.”
Godman said his children call on a schedule, so he knows to expect their calls in the afternoon.
“If you’re doing something and they call, you run like the dickens to get that phone, don’t you?” Tufte said to him, smiling.
“He loves his children. He really loves to talk about his children,” Tufte said, looking at Godman.
“Don’t cry now,” Tufte said to him with a gentle smile.
Godman’s eyes welled up with tears.
“He’s very sentimental,” Tufte explained, adding, “Maybe love for his family has kept him going.”
“I get emotional when I talk about my family,” Godman said. “They were all good kids.”
After a pause, Godman added, “I have no idea what my secret could be. I never dreamed I’d live this long.”
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