When attempting to wrap 100 years of experiences into a neat little package with a bow, seldom can the life of a centenarian, a person who lives 100 years, be summed up by two stories. Valerie “Val” Koelker, who turns 100 May 29, is just such a lady. To know all you need to about Koelker’s strength and tenacity in living her first century, she was once struck by lightning and still drives her own car.
Koelker was the oldest of eight children who lived most of her life farming in Petersburg and living in Dyersville. As the eldest when their mother died when Koelker was 16 or 17, she took on the matriarchal role of raising her siblings.
“She’d hitch up the horse and buggy to take us all to school,” said her son, Gene Koelker. “When she, herself, started school, she could not speak any English, only German.”
Gene said that as the oldest, Val had to help with farm chores, which included climbing the windmill to grease it because her father didn’t like heights.
The lightning strike took place when a bolt hit a farmyard pole, traveled down a phone line to the home and jumped to strike Val as she was sitting by the telephone.
After marrying Bernard Koelker, Val gave birth to Betty (Dan) Tobin, Sharon (Bob) Tyson, Gene and Ronald (deceased.) “When I was 3 or 4, we moved to Dyersville where we lived until all of us kids moved away,” said Gene.
In 1978, at the age of 58, Val earned her GED equivalency from Dubuque Senior. “She always wanted to be a nurse; however, her dad would not allow it and none of his kids were allowed to attend school past the eighth grade.”
She worked at the Emporium and Penney’s in Dyersville and also waitressed.
Val never gave up her love of learning or her interest in the medical field. “Mom still reads medical books and is up on current medicines and what they do,” said Gene. “She believes in home remedies.”
Val also believes in doing things by herself. She walks without a cane or walker and renewed her driver’s license in 2019. Gene added that Val learned to drive on a crank-start Model T pickup, and has never received a ticket of any kind
“She still can sew and used to make clothes for us kids when we were small,” Gene said. “She still bakes pies for family, and does her own cooking and house cleaning (in her Dubuque apartment).”
One of Val’s sisters still lives in Manchester, but the rest of her siblings have passed. She enjoys watching the Chicago White Sox, as well as some football, and also puts together puzzles.
Gene told another story of Val’s can-do attitude and spirit, which also shows her incredible zest for active living. “She always had a garden and mowed grass into her 90s. We had to make her stop, which irritated her.”
With age comes wisdom, and Val Koelker’s personal situation forced her to be wiser than her young years. It’s no wonder she’s living her life now the best way she knows how.