When Elner Streyle took Hulda Ziegler to the movie theater in Tripp back in 1947, who could have guessed what was to come? Now, 75 years later, the Menno couple is observing not one, not two, but three milestones, and — most importantly — a life that has been blessed.
How do you measure a life well lived?
Is it by service in the military before marriage and the 14 months he spent on a Navy ship in World War II without once setting foot on land?
Or what about all those quilts she made years later, first for their three children and then for their eight grandchildren, sometimes staying up until 1 a.m. threading the needle, long after he had gone to bed?
Is it by the labor of love on the family farm northeast of Menno — the farm on which he had grown up and learned the value of hard work — where they worked together raising chickens, ducks, pigs and horses? Or by the miles he logged on the grain truck helping his two sons long after they had moved into town, until he was 88 years old?
Is it by the number of times they have read the Bible or their faithful contribution to their home congregation, Zion Reformed Church of Menno, of which they have been members since they were first married all those years ago?
If we’re measuring a life well-lived, any one of those would be enough to fill the cup.
Put them all together and there’s indisputable evidence that Elner and Hulda Streyle have left a legendary mark on their place in the world that is as simple, humble and genuine as the years are long.
And just how much longer will that be?
“As long as the Lord lets us,” says Hulda, who celebrated her 100th birthday on April 8. “It’s the Lord who rules our lives.”
“Always trust in God,” says Elner, who celebrated his 100th birthday on May 9.
And April 25 the Streyles celebrated a third milestone — their 75th wedding anniversary.
That was observed quietly on April 25 from inside the modest home on East Street in Menno they have called their own since moving off the farm in 1988. Their oldest daughter, Dianna, says that, God willing, the family that today also includes
12 great-grandchildren and one step great-grandchild will likely plan something larger later this year when the weather warms up.
But a lot of fanfare doesn’t appear to interest Elner and Hulda. After all, their lives have been filled by honor found in hard work, simplicity rooted in faith and growth cultivated by family, and little else.
If that’s not a life well lived, then what is?
Most of their memories of their Depression-Era adolescence and post-education years have been lost to time, but given the courtship and lifelong romance that would begin following his return from World War II, it’s fitting both have at least a memory of their first date.
It was the spring of 1947 when Elner wrote Hulda asking her out for that first time.
Their first night out included a movie at the theater in Tripp — “and probably a lunch at the cafe,” Hulda says — and both deemed it a success.
The two dated for just over a year before they were united in holy matrimony at the Dennewitz Lutheran Church along Highway 18 east of Tripp on Sunday, April 25, 1948. (While the church is no longer there, the cemetery remains.)
Hulda remembers it raining the day before the wedding and being worried for the guests who would attend the reception on her family farm following the ceremony.
“Our yard was pretty low, and when it rained a lot, you could get stuck,” she said. “But then the sun came out and it dried off and it turned out OK.”
The newlyweds, 25 years old at the time, rented a farm in the short-term before moving onto the Streyle homeplace after Elner’s parents had moved into Menno, and their operation — and family — began to grow. A diverse inventory of livestock, oats and wheat kept both of them busy, and, for Hulda, parenthood was soon a fulltime job. Eleven months after the wedding, Dianna was born, and Larry joined the family in 1951 and David in 1959.
The years and decades that followed were remarkably unremarkable. Elner’s focus was the farm and Hulda helped with chores when needed, whether it was milking their 26 cows, gathering eggs from their 200 chickens, shocking bundles or driving the tractor. She also quilted, tended a garden and grew into a skilled cook, specializing in baked goods and traditional German foods.
There was little to no travel outside their own little world — they did take an extended family trip to the Rocky Mountains much later in life at the insistence of their children — and their social lives were primarily reserved for their church community at Zion Reformed.
For the Streyles, establishing and sustaining a home rooted in faith and filled with love was all that mattered.
“We celebrate the birthdays of those we love, recognizing the joys and sorrows we have shared, the strength we have gained from the obstacles and hardships we have conquered, and the small daily pleasures life offers …”
So reads a proclamation declared by South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem that took effect on May 9 in accordance with Elner’s 100th birthday. Noem issued one for Hulda, too, dated April 8 of this year that concludes, “it is fitting and proper for the Governor to make note of this milestone in the life of a woman who has lived an exemplary life.”
It was a life played out hand in hand with a partner, first on a date to the movie theater in Tripp, then to a marriage in a rural Hutchinson County church, then to the establishment of a home northeast of Menno and to the growth of a family that today includes more than 20 descendants trickling into a fourth generation.
Elner and Hulda moved off the family farm and into Menno in 1988, when son David moved onto the homeplace. Elner continued to work with his sons for another two decades until he was no longer able.
The Streyles both enjoy having all three children nearby — the boys both live near Menno and Dianna lives in the Clayton area — as well as most of their children and grandchildren.
“When we all get together,” Hulda says, “it’s a full house.”
And the Streyles get along well.
Hulda’s biggest challenge is her hearing and some back pain, but she is still able to do those jigsaw puzzles she and Elner love to work on, and they both enjoy reading and watching a little TV. She still bakes cookies with Elner’s help and she still cooks, but out of a box — “the lazy way,” she says.
“It’s a great blessing to see them able to take care of themselves,” says their eldest child, Dianna Buchmann. “They do their own laundry, their own cooking, and basic cleaning.”
And they still go to church when they can. While the winter was tough, both say they are eager to get back to attending Zion Reformed on a regular basis. And reading the Bible continues to be a priority.
Hulda says she uses a magnifying glass to read five chapters a night, and when she gets to the end she starts over from the beginning. And Elner finishes the Scriptures twice in a year.
“Always trust in the Lord,” he says. “That’s the most important thing.”
As for the milestone of 75 years of marriage, both kind of shrug.
“No, I can’t believe it,” says Hulda, “but I guess it’s true.”
The 100 years of life and three-quarter century of marriage — and all it produced — is exceedingly special to the Streyle family.
“It turned out OK,” says Hulda. “We have been blessed.”
(The preceding was adapted from an article originally printed in the Freeman Courier, and written by Courier owner/editor/publisher, Jeremy Waltner. This article is adapted with the permission of the original author. Only minor edits were made. The following is by their pastor, Rev. Travis Grassmid)
So we, Your people and sheep of Your pasture, will give You thanks forever; we will show forth Your praise to all generations (Ps. 79:13).
There is something beautiful in the simple, steadfast multi-generational church. As we see children, parents, grandparents and great grandparents worshipping together, we see something of the covenant faithfulness of God set upon display. Such is the wonderful testimony which we cherish in the Elner and Hulda Streyle family here at Zion Reformed Church, Menno, SD. We praise God for these quiet and faithful servants of Jehovah and members of His church.
One hundred years as a member of the same rural congregation! On July 8, 1923, Elner Streyle was baptized by Rev. M.C. Buetell at the Kassel Reformed Church. It would be another 43 years before the country churches would merge and build the current Zion Reformed Church in Menno, SD. On June 27, 1937, Elner was confirmed at the same Kassel church. This was still two years before Rev. Wm. Korn would immigrate from Germany to begin his 25 year ministry in Menno. Elner and Hulda would go on to raise their family in this church.
In January of 1977, at the same time as a certain Georgia peanut farmer was inaugurated as president of the United States, Mr. Elner Streyle was ordained as an elder at Zion. Unlike President Carter who served in office for four years, Elder Streyle faithfully served in his office for a total of twelve years. One hundred years of life. Seventy-five years of marriage. Forty six years now since Elner was ordained as an elder. It is an honor to be members of the same congregation here in Menno.
Courier Editor & Publisher