SPRING VALLEY — The year was 1909.
In Central America, Columbia recognized the independence of Panama, and the last American troops had left Cuba after being there since the Spanish American War.
And on Feb. 5, in a little old farmhouse north of Tonica, Leslie Boers was born.
“I had two younger brothers, all three of us were born in that house,” Boers said this week.
Boers, who is now a resident of the Spring Valley Nursing Center, celebrated his 104th birthday Tuesday with visits from loved ones and a large cake shared with the rest of the residents.
Boers said his father was a farmer.
“Our farm was two miles north of Tonica,” he said. “It laid alongside the Illinois Central Railroad. It was on the west side, and we farmed right up to the right of way.”
Boers attended the Hetrick School, located just north of his home.
Boers was 9 years old when World War I ended, and he remembers the day clearly. His father and several of the neighbor men were all about 35, and they were already to go fight.
“And then that freight train came north,” Boers said. “Mom woke me up pretty early in the morning, and they had the whistle blowing and smoke rolling out and the flags on the front of it.”
At first everyone thought there was something wrong.
“And then we could hear the Oglesby church bells and LaSalle church bells start ringing,” he said. “That was the end of the war.”
After graduating from the eighth grade, Boers left school to help farm with his father.
“I had four horses and a harrow and a cart,” he said. “I’d have to harrow half the field and then turn around.”
When Boers was grown, his father sent him to the barbershop in Cedar Point one evening to get a haircut.
In addition to the haircut, Boers also fell in love.
“Her dad wanted a haircut, and I was just about through in the chair,” he said. “I saw the most beautiful girl I ever saw.”
However, instead of going over, Boers paid the barber and left.
“I thought, I’m a stranger, and I’ll never see her again,” he said. “I went out and got in my car, and I had a miserable trip home.”
So Boers spent the night thinking, and by the morning, he had made up his mind.
“I said, ‘I’m going over to the barbershop. I bet he’ll know who it was,” he said.
So Boers went to the find the barber, and he was happy to tell him the beautiful girl was Leona Naumann, and he even told him where she lived.
Boers ended up working for Leona’s father until the two were married.
Boers farmed his entire life.
“At home, we were horses, horses, and then finally Dad got a tractor,” he said. “Well then I drove that night and day. We farmed three 90s, and that was a big acreage back then. That took a lot of going back and forth.”
Boers grew a little bit of everything on his farm, including corn, soybeans and wheat, plus oats for the livestock.
“After I was married, then I had quite a few cattle,” he said.
Boers and his wife enjoyed spending time with the other young people in the area.
“Sometimes we’d just go to some people’s house and have a party,” he said.
They also liked to go dancing.
“Maybe we didn’t dance good, but we got along good together,” he said. “I could just bend over a little and smell her hair, and it smelled so nice. Oh, did I love that girl.”
Boers and his wife were given many years together. She died just a few years ago at the age of 98.
Boers farmed until about four or five years ago.
“I got on my pick-up, and I went out in the field, and I hooked the tractor up to a full load of grain and came in and unloaded,” he said. “I took it back out and got back in my pick-up, and that was the last farming I’ve done.”
After his wife died, Boers had three caregivers visit him from Home Instead Senior Care in Peru.
One of those caregivers was Lorena Reviglio, who had remained a close friend. She joined Boers Tuesday to celebrate his birthday.
“I loved all three of them, but she was kind of my favorite,” he said. “She’d bring a whole meal out, and then we’d sit down and have our prayer, and then we’d have our dinner.”
Reviglio said one of the things Boers wanted in a caregiver was a good cook.
“He was not too sure about me in the beginning,” she said.
But one day Reviglio made a roast and all the trimmings and set the meal before him.
He tasted it and gave her a thumbs up.
“He said, ‘This is just almost better than Leona’s,’ and I said, ‘Shh, she’s listening,’” Reviglio said with a smile.
Reviglio said Boers is a marvelous man.
“He has a very positive attitude and a very sweet, gentle spirit,” she said.
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