Florence Eilers featured in parade as Super Senior

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Flossie Eilers, 99, and her late husband Bud raised their family and earned a living in the Guttenberg/Garnavillo area. (Press photo by Molly Moser)

By Molly Moser

Even after 99 years of life, Florence ‘Flossie’ Eilers is still having new experiences. On July 2, she’ll be featured as the Super Senior in Guttenberg’s Stars and Stripes Parade – her first time riding in a parade. Her sons, Jim Eilers of Montana and Ted Eilers of Guttenberg, will ride alongside her, while her son Dick Eilers of Guttenberg will march in the parade as a flag bearer.

In her lifetime, Flossie sent four sons to serve in the United States Armed Forces. Her husband was a service member as well. She’s been through joy and sorrow, career changes that took her to new places, and the highs and lows of her country.

Flossie was born Florence Ratterman in Dubuque on May 17, 1917. She was the youngest of eight children, and is the last remaining member of her family. Flossie attended Sacred Heart Grade School, Immaculate Conception Academy High School, and one year at Clarke College where she took courses in Latin, English, algebra and history.

“Growing up, I wanted to go into nurse’s training so badly. That one year at college kind of confused me; at the end of the year I didn’t really know what I wanted to do,” she explained of her career path. “I grew up in the Depression era where money wasn’t very available, and I just didn’t feel like spending my parents’ money for uncertainties.”

Instead of returning to Clarke, she was hired in the bookbinding department at the Telegraph Herald. “I earned a whopping $8 a week,” she laughs. “That’s when minimum wage was 25 cents an hour. And then I advanced to the office and I got $15 a week, which was really something.” Flossie lived with her parents during this time, and all her siblings contributed financially to the family. 

As a young girl, Flossie was a member of a very American sports league. “We had a girls’ baseball team and we played the dads of the neighborhoods. The winners were supposed to treat, and we never lost,” she smiled. “Two of the dads owned a neighborhood grocery store, we had a lot of watermelon. I think we had more fun than the kids do now.”

“I think electronics has changed the kids,” she told The Press. “They’re interested in their [here she motions with her hands as if playing a video game or texting]. It has cut down on conversation, which I think is sad.” She also wishes that cursive writing would continue to be taught in schools.

In 1941, Flossie married Elogius ‘Bud’ Eilers. He died in 1992, not quite 75 years old, and Flossie says she never dreamed she’d outlive him by decades. The couple honeymooned in a cottage alongside an Iowa lake. When they began their life together, he was an auto mechanic. They later moved to Garnavillo and purchased a Buick-Studebaker dealership. The dealership also sold farm machinery.

“This was when the Korean War broke out, and the country went through a recession. The banks would not lend money to the farmers for equipment, and it was really tough,” she explained.

Flossie and Bud raised six children together, including three boys who helped them farm for 15 years between Guttenberg and Garber. “This farm was run down. It had been corned to death. My husband went to every meeting to learn all the ins and outs of farming. With help from neighbors and relatives’ advice, we got along. He went to all the classes the government was giving on farming, and took the kids,” she explained. Her family’s early conservation work enhanced the quality of the land they farmed. “We made improvements on our farm and the neighbors told us when we left they never saw such nice crops of corn as we had,” she said.

When their sons were drafted into the Korean conflict, Flossie and her husband decided to leave the farm. They built a mechanic’s garage north of the Guttenberg swimming pool, where Bud and his son, Dick, worked on cars. As was her role in the family businesses, Flossie did the book work. The family built a home at 818 N. First Street, alongside the river. 

She remains a faithful subscriber to the Telegraph Herald, where she had her first job, but the news sometimes saddens her. “I really feel sorry for little kids growing up. If the world doesn’t find peace, they are going to have a hard life.”

Flossie has words of wisdom for today’s young people – “Especially the young marrieds. They give up too easily. They should talk more; talk things out. Everybody has problems, but you have to get over it. They’re on a high when they get married, but when you get down to the nitty gritty there’s a lot of give and take.”

Flossie now makes her home at River Living Center in Guttenberg. “It’s a wonderful place. We’re like family here. I haven’t regretted a day and I would recommend it to anyone. I know it’s hard to leave your home, but it’s the next best thing to home,” she advises.

The 99-year-old has an active social life. She’s a member of St. Mary’s Church in Guttenberg, where she was introduced to the game of pinochle. “I quilted with the ladies at church, and that’s when I joined the pinochle club – way back when Father Sweeney’s housekeeper, Olive, asked if I would like to join. One Sunday she called me and along with Ida Kann and Katie Fassbinder, we had a little lunch and played pinochle all afternoon. Before I left she asked if I’d like to sub at the club that Thursday. I had no excuse, and they helped me by writing out all the instructions. I went to my first pinochle day and I’ve been there ever since,” she said. “I was the youngest one then, and I’m the oldest one now.”

Flossie has 11 grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren – many of whom will be waving to her during Saturday evening’s parade. For more information about the parade and other Stars and Stripes festivities, see this week’s issue of The Press.

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