By Nancy R. Elliott
The Herald Bulletin
FRANKTON, Ind. —
Hop on in. That’s what the sign at the back door encourages.
Once inside, you can’t help but notice the pictures covering the walls — moms, dads, kids, grandchildren. Amidst the neat and pleasant rooms, you feel the warmth of a loving family. Then you spot the woman with the sparkle in her eye, and you’ve found the heart of the home — Wilma Drake.
At 94 years old, Wilma remains at the center of Drake Family Farms in Frankton. There, she spent decades devoting her days and nights to the steady rhythm of farm life while forging the strong bonds of family.
“A lot of hard work. A lot of love. A lot of sacrifice,” Drake’s son, Doug, said, articulating the keys to the strong family ties his mom fostered. He thoughtfully looked over at his mom sitting close by. “She was the backbone.”
Wilma’s focus on the home spurred her to become a founding member of the Frankton Homebuilders in 1938 when she was just 20 years old. The Indiana Extension Homemakers Association club continues today to strengthen families and home, and Drake is still a member. She was recently honored for 75 years in the organization she helped to establish.
“We had lots of fun,” Wilma recalled of the early days of the Homebuilders. “Everybody had something to do.” Meetings were held at the homes of the members. Wilma remembered canning and making noodles in her basement because both washing and kitchen appliances were available.
Evelyn Rigsby, a longtime friend of Wilma’s, joined the Homebuilders in 1946. “We all had little kids when I joined. Everybody brought their children,” said Rigsby. One of the meetings at her house was particularly memorable. “There were 18 members, but we had 19 kids. That made for a noisy day.”
Very giving, and active
The group provided social support and an opportunity to learn or hone much needed skills like cooking, cleaning and sewing. They were skills that were essential for Wilma as a young homemaker and mother.
Wilma was 5 years old when she lost her own mom to tuberculosis. She was just 18 in 1936 when she married Willard Drake and became a homemaker on a 160-acre farm.
“They graduated in May, got married in June, and started housekeeping,” said Wilma’s daughter-in-law, Cathy Drake.
Wilma’s mother-in-law, Flossie, had five farming sons, so Wilma quickly learned the ropes and picked up tips to make the gears of home life turn smoothly.
“I’d go over there and she always had a job for me,” said Wilma. “She got me peeling strawberries, picking whatever was going to be used.”
Wilma remembered cleaning her first chicken, saying simply, “It wasn’t very easy.”
She washed and hung laundry downstairs or outside when the sun was shining.
“During harvest time they all helped each other. There were a lot of big dinners,” said Cathy. And if the demands of the farm called for it, Wilma climbed up and drove the tractor.
Wilma was active at Frankton United Methodist Church, and sang in choirs. She helped with Meals on Wheels. She also ran a social group called Chat-a-Bit with her sister, Norma.
Despite very full days and nights, Wilma and Willard gave their kids, Linda and Doug, support and nurturing.
Doug recalled his growing years, “Very disciplined, yet we always had a good time with it …. Wrong from right, a lot of responsibilities, doing everything the right way. We went to church every Sunday.”
Wilma and Willard shared 68 years of life together before he passed away in 2004. The pair suffered the loss of their daughter, Linda, in 1990.
Today, Wilma still lives in the house she moved into in the early ’60s, with the support of family and devoted caregivers. Wilma’s family has grown to include five grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.
Wilma’s son, Doug, stops in every day to chat with his mom over a cup of coffee, often with his son, Mark.
“The thrill of the day is for her kids to be in her life,” said friend and caregiver Grace Savage.
The secretary of the Frankton Homebuilders, Cathy Kelich, echoed a sentiment shared by many about Wilma. “Wilma is just a great lady — very giving, a very active member in church and in the community.”
Like Nancy Elliott on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @NancyElliott_HB, or call 640-4805.