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A century of Happy Birthdays

Cecilia DeShaney officially made 100 trips around the sun last week, as she turned 100 years old on Jan. 13.

Pictured are snapshots of Cecilia DeShaney through the years.

Pictured are snapshots of Cecilia DeShaney through the years.

A celebration full of flowers, presents, song, and love was held at Stockhoff Memorial Nursing Home and Cecilia, as usual, was the life of the party.

Looking back on her life, Cecilia considers her greatest accomplishments and best part of life to be her family.

Cecilia married Daniel DeShaney Jan. 8, 1945, and their love created a cascade of family, including six children (the last two being twins), 14 grandchildren, 16 great grandchildren and 12 great great grandchildren.

If you are counting, that is 48 children that have had the pleasure of calling Cecilia mom and grandma.

Cecilia’s youngest daughter, Barbara Coleman, attended the party and shared with some memories and stories about her mother.

Coleman said her father, Daniel, knew he wanted to marry Cecilia when she was only 17 years old but she said she was not ready.

“So he told her he would join the Army and ask her again a year later,” Coleman said. “This was right before World War II. He ended up spending five years in the Army.”

The two were wed right before Daniel got out of the service. Cecilia still has the telegram he sent her letting her know he was coming home for good. The two were married for 44 years before he passed away in 1989.

Cecilia has lived in Madison County almost her entire life. She was one of nine children born to Nellie and Fritz Prokopf.

“She came from a large family that was very close,” Coleman said. “They spent lots of time together even after they were all married. We always had annual family reunions at our house.”

Coleman said her mother always made sure her kids knew their roots.

“We were always told her grandfather Frank Prokopf stowed away on a ship from Germany to come to the United States when he was 16,” Coleman said. “He worked his way across the east, marrying his wife, Henrietta in Illinois before settling here in Madison County in the early 1900s. They had a farm in the area of South Wood.”

Coleman said the house her great grandfather lived in is still there as a residence on what was originally the farm.

“He (Prokopf) opened a shoe and boot repair business and was regarded as one of the best around,” Coleman said. “His wife took over after he passed away and Cecilia’s dad Fritz helped out as well. There is a picture of her grandpa Frank in his shoe repair business currently hanging in the courthouse.”

The original sign that hung outside the shoe store is in possession of Cecilia’s daughter and is proudly displayed on her wall.

The shoe store was closed before any of the grandkids, including Cecilia, were old enough to work there but they were in and out of the shop as they grew up.

Shoes must have run in the family as years later, in 1942, Cecilia worked for Spalsbury Steis Deevers Shoe Co. which later became Brown Shoe Company.

Cecilia still has her last paycheck, which she never cashed, for the amount of $0.40 for an hour of labor.

Coleman said her mom is pretty practical and a typical mom. She said dad was an over-the-road truck driver, so mom raised most of the children single-handedly.

“She was a typical American mom,” Coleman said. “She was involved in the PTA at our schools. She made sure we were involved in church and other activities such as summer baseball leagues and scouts as we were growing up.

“Some of our best memories when we were little was she would gather us all together on the porch swing at dusk and sing to us. She’d sing songs like ‘The Old Apple Tree in the Orchard’ and ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.’”

Coleman said she and her siblings have developed a love for music because their mother was always singing or had the music playing as they were growing up.

Cecilia’s love of music started well before she had children. As young girls in town, she and her sisters would head to local dances as often as they could.

Coleman said when the troops came in on leave, her mother and aunts would all be there to dance with them.

Cecilia said they taught all their husbands how to dance before they were married. They loved swing dancing and her favorite was the Jitterbug. She loved listening to The Andrew Sisters and big band music.

Coleman said her mother also loves to fish and spent many hours at night fishing with Daniel over the years. The two even taught all of the kids to fish as well.

“One of the funniest stories told was about the time dad bought her a brand new rod and reel and the first time fishing with it at Taum Sauk Lake. A large fish hooked it and took off with it before she could grab it,” Coleman said. “She even chased it into the water trying to catch it but no luck. She said Dad probably wasn’t going to be too happy with her.”

Growing up in the depression, fishing, gardening and canning were a necessity for a large family like Cecilia’s. She would pass on these skills to her children, as well as the importance of working hard.

“Mom taught me over the years to work hard for what you get and take care of what you have,” Coleman said. “Growing up during the Depression and having large families, you didn’t always have a lot, and you made do with what you had.”

Cecilia also experienced a time when women did not have the same opportunities as men. She loves to tell the story of being the first girl allowed to ride on the fire truck in Fredericktown.

“That was something that wasn’t allowed back then,” Coleman said. “Her dad was a volunteer fireman, so one day during a fire she had to take his boots to him and was allowed to ride in the truck to get back home after the fire.”

To some, age may just be a number, but Cecilia is now in triple digits and enjoying every moment, especially those with her family.

Coleman said her family has had fun teasing mom/grandma about being “old.”

Cecilia’s grandson, Sam, has had great fun telling her she is older than sliced bread after he found out it was invented in 1928, five years after she was born.

Her granddaughter, Emma, asked her on her birthday, “Grandma, how does it feel to be 100?”

Cecilia replied, “I don’t know, I’ve never been 100 before. Ask me next week.”

Cecilia DeShaney celebrates her 100th birthday surrounded by family and friends at Stockhoff Memorial Nursing Home, Jan. 13.

Cecilia DeShaney celebrates her 100th birthday surrounded by family and friends at Stockhoff Memorial Nursing Home, Jan. 13.

Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Democrat News. She can be reached at

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