Dortha was born a few months over (98) years ago on August 11, 1920 in Burlington, Indiana, a small town located about 50 miles northwest of here in Carroll County. Then as now, almost everyone there was involved with agriculture in one way or another.
Her parents, Charley Rhine and Arvella (Lanning) Rhine, were good hard-working people of very modest means. Families back then were larger than today but theirs was bigger than most. Dortha was their eighth child and for a few years was the baby of the family until twin girls arrived. That completed their family of 10 children, 5 boys and 5 girls.
Dortha was the last surviving member of her family and was one of millions of Americans born into what became to be known as the country’s “Greatest Generation.” As her story continues, I hope it becomes clear to you why Dortha’s generation earned that name.
The population of Burlington in 1920 was around 500, so everyone knew everybody. Life there wasn't exactly like Andy Griffith's Mayberry but it wasn't far from it either.
Dortha loved growing up in that small town with its small-town values and being part of a large hard-working family that shared with one another and with their neighbors.
Her character was formed by that experience and she never forgot what it taught her.
1920 was also a major year in American history because both the 18th and 19th Amendments to our Constitution went into effect that year. In case you may have forgotten, those two amendments made profound changes to life in America. The 18th Amendment, usually referred to as Prohibition, outlawed the production, sale and consumption of all alcoholic beverages nationwide. Prohibition lasted for 13 years until it was repealed by the adoption of the 21st Amendment. So, from the time Dortha was born, until she was 13 years old, it was illegal for anyone to drink any form of alcoholic beverage at any time anywhere in this country. Wow, am I sure glad the country ratified the 21st Amendment!
While the 18th and 21st Amendments no doubt had important effects on the country’s lifestyle, the 19th Amendment provided an absolute breakthrough in women’s rights. That amendment, for first time in the country’s nearly 150-year history, gave women the right to vote and is often called the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, in reference to one of its foremost champions! Today it is hard to believe that women could not vote until 1920 but that’s the way it was. Fortunately for Dortha, she had the right to vote and did so faithfully her entire life. That wasn’t the case for her Mother Arvella.
Those two historic changes in the year she was born only set the stage for many more to come during her lifetime. Some of them were good, others not so good.
Consider this, when Dortha was born in 1920, indoor plumbing wasn’t widely available because it was too expensive for all but the wealthy. Cities and towns for the most part had neither sanitary sewers nor fresh water distribution and purification systems, so sanitation in general wasn’t great. Most if not all people in Burlington used a family outhouse (which usually included several different-sized holes to accommodate the sizes of its users) day or night, winter through summer!
Electricity wasn’t widely available either and telephones were very new. It had only been 17 years since Wilbur and Orville Wright made man’s first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
Homes didn’t have hot and cold running water, central heating and air conditioning, refrigerators or washing machines. People made do with what was available. They drank water from their own wells and used coal or wood to heat their homes and cook their meals. If they were lucky, they had a home ice box to keep food from spoiling, but it needed a new block of ice every day or two.
By necessity, people bathed much less frequently than today, often using a common tub filled with water heated on their kitchen’s wood or coal stove. Family members took turns until everyone had their bath and very often the same tub of water was used for all! Dortha’s family was no exception and in 1920 most of them got a full bath only once or maybe twice a week!
The country’s population was only 106 million and automobiles were just becoming widely available. Most roads weren’t paved and obviously there was no interstate highway system.
The average new car cost about $500 and gasoline was less than 10 cents a gallon.
A new house cost about $3,500. A pound of hamburger and a loaf of bread cost about a dime apiece!
Those prices sound great, don’t they? However, remember the average worker earned less than $2,000 a year back in 1920!
Dortha lived her first decade during what is called the Roaring 20s, when the country was again at peace after World War I had ended in 1918. Times were good and getting even better. The country was becoming more industrialized, living standards were improving and the stock market was soaring, but all the while significant changes in lifestyle and culture were occurring.
Many people were rejecting traditional culture and morals. New styles of dressing and dancing emerged, while jazz music became popular for the first time. Prohibition was not very popular and often downright ignored. That gave rise to among other things, bootleggers, bathtub gin, speakeasies, and an infamous array of criminals including Chicago’s own, Al Capone. Needless to say, Burlington wasn’t the epicenter of those changes and the Rhine family wasn’t widely thought of as local trend setters, either. Nevertheless, Dortha, her family and the rest could not escape at least some of those changes, which might be the reason why she, as an adult, did not like change. Instead, she preferred and even thrived on the everyday routines to which she had grown accustomed and saw few if any reasons to change! However, she was willing to change if she believed it was useful or necessary. That will become apparent as her story progresses.
Two events during her teens and early twenties impacted Dortha as well as everyone else in the country and around the world enormously. They were the Great Depression and World War II. She learned from both and never forgot the lessons they taught her.
The Great Depression - On October 29, 1929, postwar prosperity ended with the 1929 Stock Market Crash. Plummeting stock prices, along with a near collapse of the country’s economy, led to the worst depression in American history. The Great Depression lasted throughout the entire decade of the 1930s, as times went from bad to worse leaving millions unemployed and unable to make ends meet. The Rhine family was fortunate because Charley Rhine’s poultry business survived, but just barely. All the children, both boys and girls, had to help in one way or another keep the family afloat. Among other things, the Rhine children shared daily delivery of the Kokomo Tribune newspaper. That paper route was handed down from one child to the next, including Dortha and the other girls. All were required to give the money they made to their Mother to help make ends meet and Dortha, along with the rest of her family, took great pride in making it through the Great Depression without the need for public assistance. Many families were not so fortunate.
World War II – It began in Europe in 1939, when the Germany Army under the command of Adolph Hitler invaded Poland. The war in Europe wasn’t very popular in the United States, as memories of World War I were still fresh in the minds of many. For a time, the U. S. remained neutral but that abruptly ended on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese made a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, destroying most of the U. S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet. One day later, the United States declared war on Japan and did the same against Germany a few days after that to officially enter World War II. As our nation’s men and boys went off to war, the women and girls were left at home to support the war effort. Women of all ages went to work in factories, some of which had been converted to make all kinds of things needed to support our troops. They were often called “Rosie the Riveter” and a caricature of Rosie even appeared in a variety of publications. Dortha, as usual, was willing to do her part. She went to work in Kokomo at the Haynes Stellite plant, which made component parts for the superchargers used in military aircraft engines, among other things. Dortha worked the entirety of the war at that plant and was happy to do her part in support of her nation. That experience helped give her an enormous sense of American pride and patriotic spirit that endured until her last day.
World War II ended in 1945 and Dortha married James (Jim) Robison of Frankfort, Indiana on September 7, 1945, shortly after Jim returned from serving in the South Pacific Theater with the U. S. Army Air Corps. Like most returning G. I.s back then, Jim was eager to make up for lost time. Dortha was too!
The two of them set up housekeeping in Marion, Indiana where Jim was hired as a lineman by Indiana Bell Telephone Company. In those days there was just one telephone company in every town and believe it or not, there were no cell phones! Indiana Bell covered more towns and cities than any other, as it was the largest telephone company in the state. Jim enjoyed working there and eventually retired after 34 years with the company.
Jim and Dortha were a really good team. They complimented each other by focusing on what each one seemed to do best. Dortha assumed the role of Stay-At-Home-Mom, which was the norm for women at that time, and Jim was the bread winner. Dortha was a great Mom, who always put the needs of everyone else in the family ahead of hers. Her top priorities were attending to the needs of her children and running the household, while at the same time managing the family’s finances. She was very good at all three and so was her Mother, so Jim and the kids always thought she must have inherited those qualities.
Speaking of children, Jim and Dortha produced three “Baby Boomers”, Dick, Sandy and Bill, in a seven-year time span that began in 1947. The youngest of the three is now deceased but Dick and Sandy are here with us today. Dortha was also blessed with 2 grandchildren, Matt and Adam Roberts, along with 2 great grandchildren, Carter and Chase Roberts, all of whom are also here today.
As mentioned earlier, Dortha was a Stay-At-Home-Mom. Both she and her husband Jim thought that was an enormously important role in support of their child rearing efforts. But as the last of their kids neared adulthood Dortha decided to go back to work. She held a variety of jobs but spent the most time as the office manager for an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor’s practice in Indianapolis. She worked there for quite a few years, and eventually retired when the doctor decided to sell the practice and retire as well.
Jim and Dortha, along with the kids, lived in several Indiana towns along the way, as Jim climbed the corporate ladder at Indiana Bell. Marion was where it all began back in 1945. That was followed by a year-long stay in Fowler, another year in Lebanon, and ten years in Kokomo. The family moved to Indianapolis in 1965 and has lived in the area since.
As Jim was nearing retirement, they decided move from Indianapolis to a house they built in Noblesville on a larger lot with a big workshop in back for Jim. Dortha continued working and commuting back and forth to her job in Indianapolis, even after Jim retired. Ultimately, they moved just one more time, to a house they built in Carmel.
Until the early 1980’s the two biggest advancements in technology that affected life in the average American home were the widespread adoption of the home radio and the television. That was all about to change in a big way, when mobile phones and personal computers began to appear. The 1990s saw the rapid growth and expansion of the internet, followed by smart phones and tablets in the early 21st century. Now, it’s artificial intelligence-based personal assistants like Alexa and home automation via Wi-Fi connected smart devices.
Remember when we told you that didn't like to change but would if she saw a good reason? Well believe it or not, after her technology guru Jim was no longer around, she began using her own personal computer to email friends and family because it made staying in touch easier. Later on, she got an iPad and with it branched out from just email to frequently checking the balances in her checking account and investment portfolio. Finally, toward the end when she was failing physically, she began using Alexa to control the lights throughout her house as a way to cope with her growing physical limitations. That's quite a way to come for someone who began her life when most homes had neither running water nor electricity. As you now see, she really would change if she saw a good reason!
Dortha enjoyed a long and healthy life and her generation experienced a wonderful and downright remarkable journey. No wonder they will be forever remembered as America’s “Greatest Generation.”
St. Vincent Hospice
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