Miriam Weseman has celebrated more birthdays than most. Just weeks before her first birthday, the U.S. Congress voted to declare war on Germany, beginning the country’s direct involvement in World War I. On her second birthday, the world was preparing for a global pandemic, one that until recently had no modern comparison. She was 29 when Winston Churchill traveled to Fulton and gave his famed Iron Curtain speech, and she was 53 when the moon’s endless gray surface first bore the markings of a human footprint, Neil Armstrong’s.
On Wednesday, April 28, Weseman celebrated her 105th trip around the sun with a surprise gathering of friends and a card shower organized by her family. Sitting in the bookshelf-framed walls of the living room of the Elm Street house she’s called home since 1941, Weseman reflected on memories and stories spanning 10 and a half decades.
Each year since around her 90th birthday, the same delivery person from Hillermann’s has brought flowers to Weseman, who loves plants and has several varieties in her living room alone, for the special day. This year, the bouquet included vibrant roses, snapdragons and lilies.
“Thanks,” Weseman said she responded. “See you next year.”
For Weseman, the common thread through all those decades has been caring for others. Her career has placed her in hospitals, funeral homes and long-term care facilities, and she raised five children and has six grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. She also recently welcomed a step great-great-grandchild.
“She has always been a care provider for everyone,” Weseman’s daughter Robbie Weseman said. “She’s always had family she’s caring for, and when they left she’d go searching out in the community.”
While Weseman is easily one of Washington’s oldest citizens, she is also one of the oldest living Missourians and Americans. The oldest Missourian is Rachel Kohl, 111, of Vandalia. The oldest living American is Thelma Sutcliffe, 114, of Omaha, Nebraska.”
Weseman was born April 28, 1916, on her family’s farm in Ste. Genevieve. She was the oldest of four siblings, two sisters and one foster brother. She remembers working and helping care for her siblings from the time she was little. A small stack of papers on which she once began writing her autobiography — she made it until second grade — details this time in her life. She delivered milk with her father on a horse and buggy for 5 cents a pint or 10 cents a quart. When she and her siblings would walk to school, they learned to bring their good shoes concealed from their parents and stash their worn shoes along the route and change so they wouldn’t be embarrassed.
“That was a whole different life,” Weseman said.
Weseman, then Kiefer, graduated from Valle Catholic High School in Ste. Genevieve in the spring of 1934. She left home after graduating high school for a job as a nurse’s assistant at St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Charles. She was 18, earning about $20 a week and living with a roommate in the hospital’s nurses quarters. Initially homesick, she said she “took it in stride” and got acquainted with her new surroundings. She worked her way up and through almost every duty that needed doing at the hospital, and she also attended the Sanford-Brown Business College in St. Louis. It was during these years she worked at a funeral home in St. Charles and was a nanny, traveling with one family to Atlantic City, New Jersey. While working and living at the hospital, her roommate’s friends lived in the area, and she would often tag along with them on her nights off. One of the friends, Wells Weseman, made a particularly good impression on her.
“I had my eye on him, but then I went with his brother,” Weseman said, laughing at how she first got introduced to her husband’s family. “We went roller skating a couple times, but it never went further. I always had (Wells) in the back of my mind.”
The couple wed on Feb. 17, 1941, at St. Charles Borromeo Church and moved into the downtown apartment that now belongs to Washington’s Mayor Sandy Lucy above what was then the Parson’s Variety Store, which Wells Weseman managed. Later that year, they purchased the home where Miriam Weseman still lives.
Shortly after the wedding, Wells Weseman registered with the military. He was called into service in 1943, and he shipped out for Virginia when Miriam was pregnant with the couple’s first child. She got a job on an assembly line at Sporlan Valve Plant, participating in a national trend of women at the time taking manufacturing jobs while men were away at war.
Weseman welcomed baby David and three months later was reunited with Wells Weseman. The Missourian ran an article chronicling the serviceman meeting his 3-month-old son for the first time while on leave for the Fourth of July holiday. He returned to camp July 12.
The couple welcomed four more children from 1946 to 1949, Jan, Arthur, Mary and Robbie.
Over the years raising her family, Weseman was more eager for some technological developments than others. She remembers the children, hers and neighborhood kids, eagerly watching the family’s TV purchased in the late 1940s. But the family waited years to join another trend — owning a car.
“We didn’t buy a car until 1966,” Weseman said. “We didn’t have any need because we could walk everywhere.”
When the car did arrive, Weseman said she waited as long as she could to learn to drive it.
“I figured everybody would be safer if I was not a driver,” she said, laughing. “When I did finally get my license, I drove for about three months, and then that was it for me.”
When her youngest, Robbie Weseman, was in high school, Weseman began working at Cedarcrest Manor, an assisted living facility, helping care for residents. Her proximity to the facility meant she often was called in for late night shifts and to cover for other staff members. Once, she recalls Wells Weseman waking at 3 a.m. to spread coal across a blanket of ice that coated the sidewalk so she could walk the block north to get to work.
“Often when I was a teenager, the phone would ring at 3 o’clock in the morning, and she would go in (to work),” Weseman’s daughter Mary Weseman said.
She retired in 1967 after about 25 years at the facility but quickly filled her time with caring for others, a role her children said she excels in.
“When I retired, I just had more time to volunteer,” Weseman said. “If it needed done, and I knew I could do it, I just did it. … I guess it’s just in my nature to do that.”
She sang for decades in the funeral choir at St. Francis Borgia, where she’s attended Mass since moving to Washington in 1941. She spent time each week visiting homebound parishioners or other people in the community she knew. She continued helping at Cedarcrest and was a secretary for the local chapter of the Western Catholic Union. She also led troops with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
In recent years, Weseman has filled her time researching her family genealogy. With the help of her children and online genealogy tools, Weseman has been able to trace her lineage back to when the Declaration of Independence was signed, and the family has no plans to stop. The family also wants to compile the family history of Wells Weseman, who passed away in 1985.
“I’ve always been interested in (family history) but didn’t know anything about how to do it,” Weseman said.
Most recently, the family solved a century-old mystery about what her father’s middle initial, A, stood for. It wasn’t on any documents, and Weseman almost never heard it used in her lifetime.
Finally, Robbie Weseman found a draft card for her grandfather, Weseman’s father, from World War I. The name was handwritten in a hurried scrawl, and the family couldn’t be sure they had the name right. After much searching, they found a World War II draft card, which he would have filled out when he was around 60 years old. This card was typed, and they could see his middle name was Amanda, pronounced like AH-muh-day, which Weseman remembered hearing a couple times in her childhood.
“We were on a mission,” Robbie Weseman said. “It was so interesting to find.”
She’s also reconnected with a friend from her childhood who is, to her knowledge, the only other surviving member of her high school graduating class. The classmate is living with Alzheimer’s disease, but Weseman has been writing letters and talking about old times with her with the help of the woman’s daughter.
And Weseman enjoyed catching up with friends who have reached out to offer birthday wishes. Robbie Weseman said her mom has received cards from friends she hasn’t seen in decades. Many might wonder what her secret is to keeping friends and achieving so many years of health, but she says it’s a couple of things.
“I take everything as it comes,” she said. “I try not to worry about the little things. And I mind my own business.”