David Trinko: Faith, farming fill up her life

Catherine Early wakes up each morning, reads a bit from a Bible study, grabs a cup of tea, a bagel and an orange.

Then, as she approaches her 104th birthday Sunday, she ponders her deepest question, as she thinks about all those who passed this earth before she could.

“I ask God why I’m here,” she said, pausing for what could be described as either a laugh or a brief sob. “I guess I’m here to be a witness to Jesus.”

Family friend Richard Warren answers the question more readily.

“She asks me that every once in a while,” Warren said. “I’ll tell her it’s because you’re an inspiration to everybody in the family and everybody around you.”

Early never thought she was destined for a long life and the ability to remain in her home on Slabtown Road, which she and her husband, Everett, built together in 1980. Here she is today, a product of a lifetime of hard work that still shows as she buys fertilizer and seed every year for her family farm, which she sheepishly admits she rented out to someone else to work the soil.

To her, it’s as if you should expect a 100-plus-year-old woman to run the machinery herself.

Then again, the fiercely independent Early still gardened and played her organ daily until a year or two ago. She bought a “rototiller I can handle when I was in my 90s,” she said. Her knees aren’t as strong as they once were, she chided.

Her faith and her willpower still are, though.

Raising four children, she’s celebrated so many Mother’s Days, she’s lost count, but she remains proud of her four children, eight grandchildren and batch of great-grandchildren.

Catherine Rusmisel was born May 12, 1920, in Mount Solon, Virginia. Her family moved to Ohio, and she attended a one-room schoolhouse in Bath Township before moving to an office at Beaverdam Elementary School for that school’s first high school classes.

She recalled as a child having an early automobile, which had to be cranked to start when she was a little girl back in the mid-1920s. She mashed a finger once trying to help her dad, a World War I veteran, start it. She doesn’t remember windshield wipers on that car, but she’s sure they had curtains they kept in the trunk alongside a spare tire.

She married Everett Earl, and they moved onto his family’s farm in Bath Township. Everett served in World War II, drafted near the end of the war and built toys for children near the end of his deployment. He returned, and they remained a couple until he died following 63 years of marriage.

Early’s family could be considered a foundational family for Bath High School, as their quarry out back provided the rocks beneath the high school when it opened in 1963. Her family helped fight to have the new school’s first prom, she recalled.

Behind it all has been a quiet faith. She’s been a member of Pleasant View Church of the Brethren for years, where she played organ and helped with the Sunday school classes. She made quilts for years too.

She helped out on the farm, too, leading to one death-defying experience in 1967.

“I told my husband it was too muddy, but he went out there. I went out on a tractor to pull him out, and he hooked it up wrong. The tractor started to tip back,” she said.

Her Collie dog started barking furiously, which caused her to bend over as the tractor tipped, avoiding more serious injuries. A crane from the nearby Ohio Power Company site, which was notoriously difficult to start, apparently started right up that day to come over and pull the tractor off her.

She’s had her battles with breast cancer and mastoids. She dismisses them as distant memories.

She doesn’t have many regrets over the years, just some sadness about how she handled something once and that she didn’t travel more.

She traveled enough, she reasoned, when the family took a wooden boat Everett built down to Indian Lake most Sundays.

“He built the boat. He’d ski, and he’d put the little kids and me on Hermit Island without water or toilets, until he got tired of skiing,” she said, laughing at those memories. “I’ve still got the boat over in a barn, if you want an old wooden boat.”

She doesn’t know the secret to a long, memorable life. Perhaps it involves onions, spirited laughter or a combination of both.

“I don’t know any secrets,” she said. “I always ate a lot of onions. Maybe people just avoided me.”


See past columns by David Trinko at LimaOhio.com/tag/trinko.

David Trinko is editor of The Lima News. Reach him at 567-242-0467, by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @Lima_Trinko.