Minnie Deibert once won a car and free gasoline through contests she entered.
It turns out she was also lucky in the lottery of life, celebrating her 102nd birthday on Sunday, surrounded by 10 children, grandchildren, great-grandkids, one of her two surviving brothers, and many friends.
“This is wonderful,” said the Red Deer resident of the birthday party held in her honour at the Davenport Place community centre.
When asked what’s the secret to her long, healthy existence, Deibert didn’t hesitate: “Porridge. Eat porridge,” she said, with a wide grin.
Wilhelmina Deibert was born in 1917 in Denzil, Sask. As the second oldest of 15 children, she had to help with a never-ending series of farm chores, and dreamed of living in the big city.
Deibert first become a server in a Chinese restaurant in Wilkie, Sask., then she followed a friend to Winnipeg to work at the Eaton’s department store food counter.
Eventually Deibert moved to Vancouver all by herself. She wanted to work in the shipyards, but a friend said “Oh, no, that’s too rough,” so she settled for another restaurant job.
All the while, Deibert’s mother kept asking her to return to the farm to help out.
It was during a ‘temporary’ stint back home in Saskatchewan that the independent-minded woman, then in her early 30s, met a young farmer named George Deibert, who was a widower with two young daughters.
The couple fell in love and married in 1949.
Although Deibert went back to a rural life, she didn’t mind: “She was always happy,” recalled her daughter, Marie Worke, one of 10 children the couple eventually raised.
Worke remembers their childhood as a busy, clamorous time. Her parents raised wheat and also tended three large vegetable gardens.
They kept chickens and turkeys, a few pigs and some cows that needed milking, recalled their son, George Deibert Jr.
Deibert, who never smoked or drank much, “was a woman ahead of her time,” said Worke. “She had all these ideas. She talked about I should do this business, or that business…”
While she didn’t have an opportunity to fully stretch her entrepreneurial potential, she made time for her children. “Sometimes she would set aside a whole day to play silly games,” recalled Worke, whose mom loves practical jokes.
“She would get us to look up the sleeve of a coat, and of course, it was dark so we couldn’t see anything, then she’d spray us with water — and she would laugh…
“We would start laughing too because she was laughing so hard.”
After Deibert’s husband died in 1981, she moved to Red Deer to be closer to several of their children — including daughter Yvonne, a former Canadian embassy secretary who once played tennis with the first Present George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara.
Yvonne believes her mother instilled her children with her sense of independence and positive spirit. “I think we all took her for granted, but she was quite a strong lady in her gentle way.”
Deibert has been a faithful member at Sacred Heart Church for more than 30 years and played bingo regularly until her health began to falter over the last year or two.
it was a great social outlet — and Deibert was everyone’s favourite player, said Worke. “They all call her ‘mom’ or “grandma.’”