A Sleepy Eye native and centenarian


Centenarian Willard Romberg has seen a lot in the 100 years he’s been alive. When asked what he believes is the secret to longevity he chuckles before responding, “hard work.”

     When asked what advice he had for others he said it quite simply, “I think the best thing is to be good neighbors, work hard and go to church every Sunday.”?


Back when Willard was born, days were harder, yet simpler, he reflected. Helping on the farm was an expectation by both parents and children.
     “It was so different than today,” he began. “In my time grain was cut and bound, stacked and thrashed. Farming was all done by horses and hand power,”?he said.
     “We had big wagons because we were on a corner lot. We had to haul things in the wagon roughly a mile west of the house,”?he remembered.
     “Farmers worked hard with their fork and shovel,” he said. Adding that farmers are  good, hard workers even now, despite having the work made somewhat easier by the invention of tractors.
     The biggest change, he said, is that back when he was young there was no running water and no electricity. Each family had a large garden, chickens, cattle, hogs and several children to help with the work load.
     The cats and dogs on the farm were pets, but had their own set of chores as well. The cats kept the rodents at bay while the dogs helped herd the cattle. He remembers his mother canning well over 200 quarts a year and salting or smoking the meat to keep it from spoiling.
     “Most people had washing machines, but the machines were run by hand. Much different than today’s washing machines,”?Willard reflected.  
    The old saying about having to walk up hill both ways to go to school isn’t so far off for Willard. The country school he attended was “only” (in Willards words) a mile away. It was a one-room school house up to sixth grade. After sixth grade he attended the town school for grades 7-12. Town school was further than a mile so the children usually took the horses and stored them in a stable during the day. Willard remembers being the one to feed and water the horses at lunch break during school.
     However, shortly after Willard entered seventh grade, his father bought a Ford Model T that Willard and his siblings drove to town school every day. “Unless the weather was bad, then we took the horses,”?he added.
     After graduation from high school in 1929, Willard attended the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry until graduation. When Willard attended college, he noted, it was affordable compared to today.
After graduation he opened his own practice in Sleepy Eye. He remained a dentist until retirement.
      Shortly after starting his own practice in Sleepy Eye he met his wife, Ella, who had been a patient of his.
    Willard smiles and there is a sparkle in his eyes when he speaks of Ella. “I had a good women for 55 years,” Willard said.
     In 1943, Willard was drafted to the Army to fill dental vacancies. After receiving his letter, he had eight days to report to Dallas, Tex. In that time, he closed his practice in Sleepy Eye, he and Ella were married and they made it to Texas on time. Once in Texas, Willard was discouraged to find that the Army provided  no housing for civilian spouses.
     After some hectic searching, he located a portion of a women’s college that had partially closed and was renting dorm rooms. He settled Ella there and went to receive his orders. “I dropped her off and I?didn’t come back for two days,”?Willard said. “When I?got back, Ella had already found herself a job. I?married a good woman.”
         While in the Army, Willard assisted in dental clinics on Army bases in Ohio, South Dakota, New Orleans, Arkansas, Louisiana and North Dakota, doing anything from replacing fillings to making dentures. “It was definitely interesting,” Willard said.
     Willard, his wife and their son eventually moved to Lake Benton, S.D., where they built a home and settled into the community. That is where Willard retired from dentistry.
     He said their intentions had always been to come back to Sleepy Eye, but after building a house and becoming involved with the Lake Benton community, Willard expected that is where they would stay.
     However, Ella had different ideas. She had heard that a house Willard once lived in Sleepy Eye was up for resale and they found their way back.
     Currently Willard resides at the Sleepy Eye Care Center, but says he hopes its only a short stay to recouperate before going back to the very house where his life as a dentist began.