Freedonna Smith 99th Birthday
Huntertown Resident Prepares for 99th Birthday
By Rob Nyland
“It used to cost a quarter to go to Fort Wayne on the Interurban,” said Huntertown native FREEDONNA SMITH.
Smith is getting ready for another milestone, her 99th birthday on March 30. She was born March 30, 1899, in a small house just north of the Huntertown United Methodist Church on Old Lima Road. Her parents were ELMER E. DUNTEN, a native of Aurora, Illinois, and ZELLA IZORA HUNTER of Huntertown. They were married in 1883.
“Everyone in Huntertown was related,” Smith recalled in an exclusive interview on December 11 with the Northwest News. Huntertown was named after her mother’s family. WILLIAM T. HUNTER, a native of Cumberland, England, first settled in Perry Township in 1837. He purchased land, cleared the forest, and built a hotel. He was also a successful farmer. Her aunt was Huntertown physician Dr. FRANK GREENWELL’S wife, MARY JANE HUNTER. They lived in the large yellow and white house on the corner of Hunter Street and Old Lima Road.
Her family lived in the same house (built by Manville Newton Dunten) on Old Lima Road north of Cedar Canyon Road, where she lives today. The family had the first electric lights in Huntertown, some 70 years ago. The house originally had two stories, but her parents removed the second floor. They originally had a big barn. The farm had 500 acres. They had horses, cows, pigs, and chickens. Smith drove a tractor but admits she couldn’t back up very well.
“We had to cross the railroad for our cattle, who grazed in the woods,” she said.
They grew corn and potatoes. She and her father took potatoes to Fort Wayne to sell them. They usually stopped on Wells Street to have sandwiches; her father would have a glass of beer. They raised chickens; then ended up having mostly pigs.
The family owned the land south to the creek and north to Joe Malcolm’s property. They gave some of the ground to her brother, “across the railroad”.
Smith had three brothers and three sisters, but “they’re all gone now.” One child died in infancy. She helped take care of her siblings. She attended Parker School, a one-room, brick schoolhouse with 12 grades. MR. HURSH was her teacher. The school is no longer standing. “We learned from the older students,” Smith said and she recalled that everyone got along fine. She still has a photograph of the school, her teacher, and all of the students, from when she was in the first grade. They were a well-dressed, attractive group of young people. Smith herself was a cute youngster.
She attended the school for nine years, then transferred to Central High School in Fort Wayne (still standing on North Clinton, near the post office) for two years, before going to work.
Smith said she and her siblings “used our imagination and made our own toys to play with.”
At Christmas they usually got a deck of cards or an orange. The family were members of the Huntertown Methodist Church. They didn’t have Christmas trees, so their celebration was quite simple. She said she thinks parents spoil their children today by giving them whatever they want.
Smith played euchre for years with a group of friends. She said she thinks she could still play today. Her oldest sister, BERNICE, live to be 95 years old. She was a nurse in France during World War I. Her brother, DONALD, also served during that war. Bernice told her how one Christmas, they brought in trees, weeds, and blue paper from bandages to the hospital where she worked.
Smith began working in Fort Wayne when she turned 18, in 1917, the same year she first drove an automobile. She worked at General Electric, Perfection Bakery, the Huntertown Telephone Company, and at the Huntertown interurban train station.
At General Electric she “wound armatures,” the iron cores which were used in generators or motors. At Perfection Bakery, she made cookies and sometimes burned her hands when she took them off the hot sheet. When she began working for the Huntertown Telephone Company, she was able to ride a bicycle to work. She recalls that Huntertown’s interurban station, where she sold tickets, had a coal burner. She banked it at night and “it would still be hot in the morning.”
The interurban system carried freight as well as passengers. It went right through Huntertown, along much of Old Lima Road, then curved along the creek north of the Methodist Church. The trains connected Fort Wayne with Garrett, Auburn, Avilla, and Kendallville. She worked until 1961. In later years, she worked for Frank’s Dry Goods.
She married at the age of 26, in April 1925, to ALMON F. SMITH. Even after she was married, she and her husband lived with her parents. Her mother died of cancer, at the age of 83, on February 17, 1938. He father died three years later.
Almon’s family were farmers, too. Like William Hunter, his grandparents settled in Huntertown in the 1830’s. Her husband farmed, made cabinets, and was trustee for the Perry School. “He hired the teachers,” Smith said. Almon was township assessor. “His business went to the courthouse in Fort Wayne,” she noted. He also “served on a lot of boards, including the children’s home and different things they don’t even have now.”
Almon died in 1982. She has a daughter, MARDELL MESSMAN, and a son, LEWIS SMITH. In addition, Smith has seven grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren.
Historical records show that Huntertown reached a population of 250 by 1917. It grew slowly and then settled around 500 for many years. About 25 years ago, Huntertown started growing again as some of the land near the creek was developed. By 1990, the population was about 1,300. Smith hasn’t particularly liked the changes.
She said she could still read large print publications until just recently. She can still make out headlines in publications. Her daughter told us that Freedonna “gets along fine in the kitchen.” Smith said she thinks “computers are terrible because everybody wants to know your own business.” “To think,” she complained, “when you get so old, the government still wants your money and they don’t know what to do with it!” “We get rid of a lot of people in planes,” Smith said, “but they still want to fly.”
She is probably the oldest person in Huntertown and was recently made “Queen of Huntertown.” She no longer makes it to church, but an associate pastor comes to visit her and give her communion. Smith generally stays inside during the winter months, “due to the cold and the danger of falling.” Her health remains remarkably good and she is quite spry and attentive as she looks forward to not only her 99th birthday next March, but a 100th birthday in 1999.
Asked the inevitable question about her long life, she simply said she eats three meals a day and has never smoked nor drank.