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The Oldest Woman in Iowa

posted Jun 6, 2018, 6:03 PM by James Nennemann
Harry Wilkins

In the year 1831 Andrew Jackson was president of the United States, the first steamboat navigated the upper Missouri River, and Nancy Jane Nees was born in Hendrix County, Indiana. Nancy’s June 22nd birth was most certainly a cause for celebration for her parents George and Cynthia, but hardly worthy of historical note. That would change 106 years, seven months and seven days later when Nancy quietly passed away at the Hastings home of her daughter, Martha Jane Benedict; the date was January 29, 1938, and on that Sunday she was the oldest person living in Iowa.

Nancy lived the life of a pioneer woman in every sense of the word, first as a daughter who learned the value of hard work on her parents’ farm in Indiana and later as a farm wife and mother of eleven children. As a girl she attended school through her 17th year and in 1850, still a teenager, married Levi Hurst. The newlyweds were not destined to stay in Indiana though—by 1853 they decided that cheap land in Iowa was an irresistible opportunity and took off with several other families on a trek to Appanoose County. They purchased a place, settled down and began raising a family. But by the spring of 1865, Levi and Nancy and their six children decided western Iowa was where they needed to be and struck out once again in a covered wagon pulled by oxen. Along the way they stopped at Red Oak to nurse their ailing infant daughter. While there, they were shocked to learn of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Sadly, their daughter did not survive and they buried her before moving on to Fremont County, where Levi purchased 40 acres of untilled land five miles northeast of Sidney.

The family settled into the daily routine of an Iowa farm family, with Levi taking on the added responsibility of preaching in a nearby school used by the Christian Church. Tragically, he died in 1876 leaving Nancy to raise her family alone but she kept the family together. Although Nancy owned the homestead her entire life, by 1912 she realized the time had come to move to Tabor to live with her sons, John and Frank and, later, with her daughter. She never gave up her independence, insisting on living in a separate room where she cooked her own meals. Nancy was remembered by her family and friends as being content with her simple life, yet she regretted one thing: she was never able to fly in an airplane. Still mentally alert at 101, she decided that it was time to cast her first vote for president, which she did in the 1932 election. Thinking of those suffering during the Great Depression she decided to support Franklin Roosevelt, commenting as she did: “something ought to be done about these times.” And if anyone was an expert on time, it would have been Nancy Hurst.

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