Oldest Sanborn County resident Ann Roberts turns 107

Sept. 29 proclaimed Ann Roberts Day in Woonsocket

ANN WAS tickled pink to learn the mayor of Woonsocket had proclaimed her birthday “Ann Roberts Day”. She is pictured with Mayor Lindy Peterson receiving her certificate.

Ninety years ago Ann (Zoss) Roberts took her first teaching job in a country school north of Forestburg. Armed with a high school diploma, six months at Teachers Normal School in Aberdeen and a second grade teacher’s certificate, Ann began what would become an extraordinary career. It was 1923 and Ann was 17.
Ann Roberts led a life many of us are content to just read about. She taught school in Forestburg, Great Falls, Mont. and Honolulu, Hawaii. When she was recommended for a civilian teaching job with the Allied Occupation in Japan in 1949, her intrepid spirit jumped at the chance. In 1952 the Occupation ended, the Korean War was in full swing, and Ann was offered another assignment.
“The money was better in Korea,” and the opportunity to help high school kids who and hadn’t had the chance to graduate before shipping off to war was enough to send Ann on yet another adventure. So in 1952, by way of an airplane from Japan and a blacked out train to Seoul, Ann made her way to Air Base K-13 near the village of Suwon.
“I thought I had rocks in my head,” she said of her arrival at the Base. “[It was] the most horrible, desolate place you ever saw.” Yet her time in Korea would become the “ultimate experience of her life.”
Ann was the “education director” of a base that had no education program. She asked for an office and was given a chair. She asked for a pencil and paper and started a school. Ann used that pencil and paper to post advertisements around the base for the education center that didn’t quite exist yet.
The response to the ads was great, the school grew and soon she had to recruit educated first and second lieutenants to teach classes with her. By the time she left K-13 for reemployment leave, the base had built her a wood frame building to house the school, as they had run out of office space to hold classes.
Ann had settled in quite well, the only woman on a base of 5,000 men, until a female librarian was hired to remedy that. Basics in life – food, clothing, etc. – were at a premium over there. “Life was tough,” she says. “You really had to take it on the chin,” but the reward was well worth it. “I got there and enjoyed it immensely.”
During her two years in Korea, from 1952 to 1954, Ann recalls watching the night sky for flashes of light from the battlefields, air raid sirens and remembers students who didn’t come back from their missions.
Ann recalls one particular flight she was on from Japan back to Korea (they had gone to pick up supplies) when the plane lost power an hour out of Japan. The pilot turned around and ambulances and fire trucks raced to the site of an emergency landing back in Japan.
Upon deplaning she could see the engine had caught fire. The pilot was visibly  shook up and hustled them all into a bar for shots of whiskey.
It’s unknown how many young soldiers received their high school diplomas thanks to Ann, but it’s evident that the experience made a deep impact on her and also on those whom she taught. Ann was later nominated for the Presidential Medal of Freedom Award by the 5th Air Force, Korea.
Ann returned to the states and moved to Los Angeles, Calif., beginning what would end up a 13-year career with TRW, Inc. (Thompson, Ramo & Wooldridge). TRW dabbled in many different fields, including aerospace. They built spacecraft such as Pioneer 1 and 10 and ballistic missiles. TRW was commissioned to build an answer for Russia’s Sputnik.
Ann met her husband Allen Roberts on a golf course in the 1950s when she was in her 50s. They were later married in Las Vegas. She retired in 1967 and the pair lived out their retirement in California.
When Ann was six months old her family migrated from Barnsville, Minn. to a farm near Letcher, where she grew up with her 13 siblings. Ann remembers the arrival of automobiles and how much they terrified the horses.
She says her first car was a Model T Ford she bought for $75. Her brothers scolded, “How can you spend so much money?” She recalls that if it broke down, one only had to open the hood to find the loose wire or part, go over to a fence and get some wire to fix it.
Ann’s lifetime has seen the advent of color photography all the way to high resolution digital photos; the first talking motion picture on up to iMax, HD and 3D; penicillin and insulin; Corn Flakes and Lifesavers; radio, stainless steel, zippers, Velcro, nylon, aerosol spray cans, ballpoint pens, Teflon, Scotch tape, crossword puzzles and the atomic bomb.
Ann has lived through every war of the modern era: World War I & II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Afghanistan and Iraq. Her amazing life spans through Prohibition, the Depression, the Spanish Flu and the opening of the Panama Canal.
She was six years old when the Titanic sunk; 12 when Daylight Saving Time was introduced; 35 years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor; 45 when “I Love Lucy” debuted; 57 when JFK was shot. Ann was two years into her well-deserved retirement when she watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon on a TV that, of course, was invented during her lifetime.
There were just 45 states in the Union when Ann was born in 1906. Oklahoma would be the next admitted in 1907, followed by New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii.
Teddy Roosevelt was president, but his face on Mount Rushmore wouldn’t be finished until 1939. Of course, carving on Mount Rushmore didn’t even begin until 1927. Ann had been teaching school for four years by then.
Ann Roberts turned 107 years old Sunday, Sept. 29. Friends and family gathered to celebrate her remarkable life with her this past week at Prairie View Care Center, where she resides.
Mayor Lindy Peterson proclaimed Sept. 29 Ann Roberts Day in Woonsocket and presented her with certificate. Ann is the oldest woman in Sanborn County and about 5-1/2 months younger than the oldest living resident of South Dakota.

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