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Joe and Helen Aberle Celebrate 75 Years of Life Together

Burke, Allan. "Joe and Helen Aberle Celebrate 75 Years of Life Together." Emmons County Record, June 2006.


Joe and Helen Aberle said they have had a good 75 years of marriage because they work things out as they happen. (Photo by Terry Schwartzenberger, Napoleon Homestead.)

There were about 130 family members present Saturday evening, July 8, 2006, when Joe and Helen (Mitzel) Aberle of Napoleon celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary at the Golden Age Hall in Napoleon.

The family gathered following a special Mass celebrated in their honor by Father Joe Goering of Fargo at St. Boniface Catholic Church, rural Kintyre. They both grew up in the Kintyre area and attended St. Boniface until they retired, moved to Napoleon and built a house in 1970.

Joe, 97, and Helen, 94, were married October 31, 1931, and they chose to celebrate in July to accommodate family members who had to travel from distant points.

There was no significance in their having a Halloween wedding other than it was after harvest and fit into everyones schedule. Also, Halloween was not as much of an event in those days.

It helps us remember the date, Helen joked.

It was the custom at St. Boniface for the priest to announce an upcoming marriage for three Sundays to give anyone an opportunity to object.

We paid $5 so that we didnt have to wait, Joe said.

They met when they were children attending summer religion school at St. Boniface and took a liking to each other.

I can remember Helen when she was four years old, Joe said.

Later, Joe would ride his horse over to the Mitzels, using the excuse that he wanted to visit Helens brother, Pete.

Their wedding at St. Boniface was a small event nobody but immediate family was invited. Peter Schumacher and Tony Werlinger stood up with them.

There was no money it was the beginning of the Great Depression, so they did not have a formal wedding picture taken. Three years later, they had their picture taken at a carnival in Napoleon.

Joe and Helen Aberle couldn’t afford a wedding picture in 1931, so they had this picture taken at a carnival about three years later. They were married at St. Boniface Catholic Church, rural Kintyre.

The couple bought a $10 wedding ring for Helen at the Napoleon drug store. She wore it everyday until it became too loose after she became ill three years ago.

Asked about being married three-quarters of a century, Joe quipped, "It wasnt easy." That prompted Helens retort, "You had your choice." They both laughed.

They agree the most difficult time of their marriage was trying to survive on the farm raising a family during the Depression years when there were no crops and low prices for what little could be raised.

Their greatest joy has been their family. They have 10 children, 33 grandchildren, 48 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.

The Aberles may have set a record. In 75 years, they have lost only two family members: a child in infancy and one son-in-law, and there are no divorces in the family.

Joe and Helen said their lives have taught them to take the good with the bad, the bad with the good.

"My mother told me if I didnt like it, lump it," Helen said.

The Aberles said they have worked out differences when they have arisen.

"There is no other way," Helen said. "Otherwise, you suffer for it."

In recent years, too, the Aberles have had their challenges. Helen suffered two strokes in the past three years and now lives in the Napoleon Nursing Home while Joe lives in the family home. He does not wear glasses and drives, so he visits Helen everyday. He also takes her out whenever that works out.

Their love for each other is evident in their smiles when they are together and the affection they exhibit.

Helen's family

Helen is one of the 10 children of Sebastian and Helen (Kraft) Mitzel, and she grew up on a farm near Kintyre. The Mitzels were both born in the United States, but their parents immigrated from Russia.

Helen's grandparents, Peter and Barbara Mitzel, farmed at Zeeland and donated the land for the St. Andrews Catholic Church Cemetery.

For a short time, Helen's family lived on the farm with Sebastian and Helen before moving back to Kintyre.

Sebastian and Helen's children included Peter, Helen, Fred, Emma Wolf of Linton, Frank, Claudius and Barbara (Mrs. Joe) Leier of Kintyre. Helen, Emma and Barbara are the only surviving Mitzel children. The Mitzels lost two children in infancy and a third, Irene, who died at age 10.

Helen attended farm school Weigel District No. 1 with about 30 other kids. She left school after the third grade to stay home to help take care of her brother, Frank, who had been paralyzed by polio.

She helped out in the house as well as with farm work. She shocked grain, milked 8-10 cows, helped put up hay and did other chores. Her brothers did the heavier farm work.

"I did more work after I was married than I did when I was at home," Helen joked.

"We had only the bare necessities when I was growing up, but everybody was poor, so we didnt know we were poor," Helen said. "We were poor in money but not poor in love." During the Depression years, that also proved to be the case with Joe and Helen's family.

"Sometimes when my mother went to the store, she would buy a bag of candy for five cents," Helen recalled. "She would make a little pile of candy for each of us kids, and we thought we had the world."

Joe's family

Joe was born to Joseph and Clara (Schumacher) Aberle on a farm in McIntosh County just three miles south of what is now Highway 13.

His grandparents were Sebastian and Marian (Black) Schumacher and Mike and Regina Aberle.

The family attended St. Aloysius Church where Joe was baptized.

"We moved to a farm in the Kintyre area (near St. Boniface) when I was seven," Joe explained.

The family included Joe, Catherine (Philip) Fettig, Jacob, Peter, Marian (Balzer) Weigel, Regina (Leo) Weber, Thomas and Tony. Catherine, Peter and Jacob are deceased.

Joe grew up helping his dad on the farm, and became very good at handling horses that were used to pull farm equipment, from a two-bottom plow to a rake.

Like Helen, he also milked his share of cows.

Starting out

Their first year of married life was spent farming and living with Helen's parents. Then, Joe's dad rented a small farm (two quarters) for them about a mile and a half from St. Boniface.

They spent the next winter with the Mitzels and then rented a farm on McKenna Lake. In 1942, they bought their farm from Alois Weigel.

The Aberles farmed with horses, starting with three given to them by Joe's dad.

"I borrowed $200 from the First National Bank in Napoleon to buy a horse in the early 1930s," Joe said.

Joe used four horses to pull a two-bottom plow and could do five to six acres in a day, so it took a long time to plow the farms 200 acres of cropland.

All of the horses had names, and some of them Joe recalls were King, Nellie, Peach, Shorty, Butte, Babe, Cap and Mollie.

Joes first tractor was an old Case. It had rubber tires and a crossways engine.

During the drought years (1930-38), crops were scarce to none, and prices were very low 11 cents a bushel for rye and 25 cents for wheat. Pigs sold for 50 cents.

Joe would butcher a hog in the fall and carry it on his back for the one and a half mile walk to Napoleon where he sold half to Louie Mitzel and half to Bill Draeger.

To bring in some money for the family, Joe worked about two years for the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA), starting in 1935.

"We built roads by hand with shovels," Joe said.

He plowed up country road beds with two horses and worked on the St. Boniface road. "Those drought days were hard times, but we always had enough to eat," Joe said.

The Aberles remember the summer of 1934 when grasshoppers invaded, making the sky black and eating every plant and blade of grass that was standing. Large Army Worms swept through the area another summer, and they ate even the thistles.

There was little or no feed for livestock, so the government shipped in hay by rail from Minnesota, and farmers picked it up at the depot in Napoleon.

The Aberles used some of Joe's WPA money to buy flour. Joe hauled it to the mill in Burnstad, using a car and a trailer.

"We were happy to have enough flour to get through the winter," Helen said, "I could cook and make bread."

The handful of cows provided milk and butter for the family, and they had beef and pork.

Chickens were a primary food source in the summer and fall, but for the winter Helen preserved pork in brine, and they smoked salt pork.

The Aberles had a dog that would catch chickens and hold them down until somebody got there.

"The dog was much better than using a leg catcher," Joe laughed.

Helen said she made soup out of the older hens for Sundays.

"The chicken soup cooked while we were at church," Helen explained, "and I added the noodles when we got home."

The Aberles always had a big garden, so Helen canned vegetables. She also canned sausage and beef.

A tradition in the Aberle family was for the kids to get the garden weeded before the 4th of July so that they could go to town to shoot off fireworks and go to the carnival in Napoleon.

For years, Helen used a cookstove, and their was very little wood in the area to burn in it. That meant the family had to gather cow chips in gunny sacks. Fresh manure was packed down into what was called mischt, and it was kept in layers of straw in a shed for use during the winter.

Helen said she was excited when they bought their first kerosene stove for cooking.

Helen helped Joe, and later the boys, with farm work. She milked, fed pigs, chickens and turkey and cut and raked hay.

During the good years, they raised rye, wheat, oats, barley and flax.

"That was long before anybody raised sunflowers in this part of the country," Joe said.

Aberle family

Joe and Helen have 10 children. They include Marie (widow of Mike A.) Mitzel of Coalinga, Calif., Adeline (Bill) Glatt of Bismarck, James (who died when he was three months old), Sebastian (Betty Schatz) of Napoleon, LeRoy (Carmen Brandner) of Herreid, S.D., David (Judy) of Mechanicsville, Iowa, Lawrence (Sue) of Edwardsville, Ill., Steve (Pat) of Gerald, Mo., Joseph (Lorraine Vetter) of Wishek and Helen (Markus) Franck of Kintyre.

Joe and Helen Aberle and eight of their children posed during their 75th wedding anniversary celebration in Napoleon on Saturday. In the back row, left to right, are Sebastian, Joseph, Larry, Steve, Helen Franck and LeRoy; front row, Adeline Glatt, Joe and Helen and Marie Mitzel. David and his wife, Judy, were unable to attend. (Photo by Terry Schwartzenberger, Napoleon Homestead.)

Reprinted with permission of the Emmons County Record.

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