On Saturday, Miss Nellie Arnsdorff celebrated her 100th birthday with her family and friends gathering in the Effingham Care Center, where she now lives. She enjoyed chocolate cake and ice cream and spending time with her relatives and church members.
Nellie Elizabeth Arnsdorff was the ninth-born child of James Claude and Hattie Gnann Arnsdorff. She was born in the home her father Claude built for his wife Hattie when they married Dec. 19, 1900. The Arnsdorffs had 12 children, 10 of which lived to adulthood. The wood-frame house on Green Morgan School Road near Clyo was later home to Nellie’s brother James and his wife Mazie Arnsdorff. James’ grandson Gregg Trowell and wife Lisa make their home there now.
The Arnsdorff children attended school beginning at Green Morgan School and later Campground School on Sister’s Ferry Road. Some went on to higher education and attended Effingham Academy in Springfield.
At the age of 6, Nellie and her family moved to her maternal grandparents Martin and Pelham Dasher Gnann’s first home at Pax Station on Turkey Branch Road. This place was a virtually self-sufficient farm, raising everything needed to survive except flour and sugar that Hattie sold eggs to afford. Nellie was not afraid of work growing up on the farm, assuming many responsibilities. She picked cotton by hand, outdoing others. She helped plant and dig Irish potatoes and sweet potatoes. On cane grinding days, she did whatever was necessary to see that the syrup, a staple of their daily diet, was made. This included cooking for workers and those in the community gathered to help. On butchering day, she saw that at least six sweet potato pies were in the pantry for meals that day. She became an excellent cook.
One of her first memories at the new home was waking at daybreak or before to prepare for the Farmers’ Union Picnic to be held in the yard. All of the sycamore leaves had to be swept away with gallberry brooms before the guests arrived. Miss Nellie recalls that Roy Rahn was president of the union and my grandfather Leon Exley was secretary. Later, the union headquarters were at Herbert Reiser’s near Berryville.
Neither Nellie nor her brother Cecil ever married. They stayed on the home place and kept the farm going and took care of their parents for as long as they lived. She enjoyed gardening, growing flowers and cooking. Miss Nellie let the chickens in and out of the coop at dark and daylight. By lantern light before sunup, she milked the cow. After electricity, Miss Nellie made butter from the cow’s cream using the electric mixer, thus utilizing new ways to get her work done.
A lifelong member of Bethel Lutheran Church, she rarely missed a service or event. She especially enjoyed senior luncheons in her later years. Her dinner basket always contained her signature raisin bread and baked goods. Although she never had a child, she was a grandmother figure to her great nieces and nephews. Her rolled sugar cookies, cut in shapes to correspond with the holidays of Easter, Christmas or Halloween, were always ready for the young visitors. She made homemade doughnuts and shared with the young folks.
Miss Nellie has always worn dresses for 100 years, never giving in to pants on women. After her brother passed, she stayed by herself and continued to plant a garden and tend her flowers and chickens. She drove to church until her car was stolen in her 90s. Her nieces and family took her to shop. Her nieces Nadine Seckinger and Myrna Trowell were sorely missed when they passed.
After some decline in Miss Nellie’s health, Eva Goldwire was hired to sit with her in the day. She enjoyed being driven to events and places in the area. Whenever the paper was delivered, she promptly went to the box to get the newspaper to read. This was often well before daylight. As Eva arrived one morning, she found Miss Nellie had fallen outside by the mailbox and was extremely cold. She then went to live at Effingham Care Center where she now resides. Her bags stay packed as she begs all visitors to carry her home.
The changes this lady has seen in 100 years are mind-boggling. This lady worked hard and served God and her family. Her philosophy was, “I would rather wear out than rust out.” She delights in desserts and sweet treats, opting to skip the vegetables and meat on her trays. “Aunt Nellie,” as she is affectionately known, longs to see her chickens and tend her flowers. Miss Nellie enjoys occasional visitors, especially the young great nieces and nephews.
This was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham Society with information provided by Miss Arnsdorff’s niece Libby Arnsdorff Heidt. If you have photos, comments or information to share, contact Exley at 754-6681 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.