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‘Nothing to fuss about’; Henderson, 102 today, keeps busy

Keith Norman / The Sun Myrtle Henderson sits next to a storage cabinet of embroidery floss at her Heritage Centre apartment Friday. Henderson celebrates her 102nd birthday today. She does embroidery work on dish cloths as a hobby.

In more than a century of life, Myrtle Henderson has lost two husbands and a daughter. She has also lived through the Great Depression, the drought of the Dirty ’30s and numerous unnamed economic downturns.

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Despite the hardships, she remains an independent and happy lady. Henderson celebrates her 102nd birthday today.

“We always had enough to eat, clothes to wear and a home to live in,” she said. “There was just nothing to fuss about.”

Henderson said she still has nothing to “fuss about.” She has resided since about 2000 at the Heritage Centre.

“I do my housework, I do my washing, nobody takes care of me but me,” she said. “But the nurses like to check on me once in a while.”

One of those nurses is Sharyln Geerdes, a registered nurse at the Heritage Centre.

“She’s very independent,” she said of Henderson. “She cooks for herself and is a remarkable woman. She outdoes a lot of people that are a lot younger. She really has minimal health problems for someone over 100 years old.”

Henderson was born Myrtle Pottratz near Elkton S.D,, in 1911 but moved with her family to the Millarton area southwest of Jamestown when she was about 5.

“My dad was a farmer,” she said. “I went to Millarton School. I didn’t get through the eighth grade. I had to work out doing housework for others.”

When Henderson was 18, she married Albert Gatz. Gatz taught school initially but later worked as a carpenter in the Millarton area. The beginning of their marriage corresponded with the beginning of the Great Depression.

“We had tough times,” Henderson said. “In the Depression times were very tough. That’s when we moved to Jamestown.”

During their time in Jamestown, Albert worked at a creamery and as a carpenter. Just before the outbreak of World War II, the family moved to Bartlet, Ill., where Albert worked as a carpenter at what would become O’Hare Airport.

“She (Myrtle) was one of the women that worked in the factories during World War II,” said Dennis McCarthy of Cleveland, N.D., a nephew of Henderson’s. “I’m sure it wasn’t an easy life but she is quite the girl.”

Henderson said she continued working in a factory for 17 years, much of the time as an inspector.

During the couple’s time in Illinois, they raised four children, Phyllis, Arnold, Elaine and Sharon. Phyllis died when she was 45; Arnold, Elaine and Sharon live in various parts of the country.

Albert Gatz died in 1993 after the couple was married for 63 years. She later married Hugo Henderson whom she had known since childhood and who was recently widowed.

“We had one year of happiness and then he passed away,” she said.

Henderson returned to Jamestown in about 2000 and has been a resident of the Heritage Centre. Henderson said she doesn’t know any secret to living past the century mark.

“I’ve always enjoyed life,” she said. “I can’t give any special reason I’ve lived so long.”

Henderson said she continues to enjoy embroidery and produces dishtowels for sale and donation to events.

Her 102 birthday will be celebrated by the residents, staff and visitors at 2:30 p.m. today at the Heritage Centre. Coffee and cake will be served.

“She is very delightful to work with,” Geerdes said. “Her party will be well attended. She’s well liked by staff and residents alike.”

Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at 701-952-8452 or by email at