100 years of yodeling, farming and ice cream

John W. Rempel will be celebrating his 100th birthday party at Salem Home in Winkler on Feb. 15.

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“Should I yodel for you?”

The soon to be 100-year- old John Rempel draws in a breath and begins to sing. His voice undulates as he shows off his yodeling skills, effortlessly producing the music as his daughter Clara Peters smiles and listens.

Rempel is 99 (though his voice doesn’t show it) and will be celebrating a big milestone on February 15. He and his family are inviting relatives, friends and acquaintances to ring in Rempel’s 100th birthday in the Heritage Room at Salem Home from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m.

His age hasn’t slowed down Rempel or put a stop to his prankster ways, according to Peters.
Rempel was born in Sommerfeld as a two pound baby, and his mother kept him warm by putting him in a shoebox with a water bottle.

“To live to be 100 is pretty amazing,” Peters said. “He’s got a very positive attitude, always has. I have never seen him angry at another person.”

Rempel farmed near Sommerfeld, worked at the beet loaders in Gretna and Plum Coulee and retired to Winkler. He was a crossing guard at local schools for many years, and was very involved with the church.

“He worked very hard on the farm,” Peters said. “He had a two-ton truck, and he piled that high with bales by himself… he barely made it under the Hydro wires. He did it all himself, got home and unloaded it all.”

Rempel said some of his favourite parts of living on the farm were milking the cows and looking after the horses, even if they were difficult at times.

“I’ve trained lots of horses,” he said. “Once I was riding a horse and I came to the wheat field, and the horse didn’t want to stand. It wanted to go. He jumped up and threw himself over. I quickly threw myself off, but I was unlucky. I had to walk home a couple of miles.”

Music has always been a part of Rempel’s life, and even at 99 he still loves to show off his yodeling skills.

“I was a boy when I started to sing and play guitar,” Rempel said.

“On the farm in the evenings we could hear him singing and yodeling,” Peters said. “Anybody that knows Wilf Carter, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between him and Wilf Carter.”

Rempel has even started passing the love of yodeling on to others. “These two nurses were in his room, door was closed and all these sounds were coming out of there,” Peters said. “People that came to visit had gone to ask, ‘Is everything okay in that room?’ Yes, it was dad trying to teach these two girls to yodel.”

“I learned from Wilf Carter,” Rempel said. “When I rode around on the horses I would sing and yodel. I always sounded like I was a cowboy.”

Rempel has two daughters, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, with the fourth on the way.

“When they come here he still runs around with them and plays hide-and-seek with them and chases them,” Peters said. “He loves people, he always has. He loves kids, he loves playing with kids.”

Rempel used to baby sit for Peters, and often spoiled his granddaughter. “He would take [her] shopping and let her put whatever she wanted into the cart,” Peters said. “She filled it up with popcorn and all the things she loved to eat.”

At Salem Rempel likes to puzzle, read and play crokinole. “You cannot beat him in a game of crokinole,” Peters said.

“Not always,” Rempel added. “But most of the time.”

Rempel has seen a lot of change in his lifetime. “He grew up just on this side of the border, so he would take the cows out,” Peters said. “They would sometimes get a little wild and go across the border and he was saying the other day he would just go and get the cows from across the border.”

Of course, that wouldn’t be so easy today.

He used to go to school on horse and buggy, and spent a lot of time walking and biking.

When he married, the family still didn’t have running water. Rempel used to have to haul all the water inside, and they had to heat up all the water.

Rempel used to make homemade ice cream from fresh snow for his family. He said it was something he liked doing.

“Chocolate or vanilla,” he said his favourite flavors are.

When asked what the secret is to growing old, Rempel said he doesn’t know. “There is no secret,” he said. “God knows what, I don’t know.”

Rempel said he is excited about his upcoming birthday.

“He says that once he’s 100 he starts from one again,” Peters said.