Say “Hello, Dolly!” to South Dakota’s oldest resident at 109 years young
July 23. 2014 9:23AM
Dagmar “Dolly” Keehn is 2014's "Centenarian of the Year.”
According to Century Club records, Dolly Keehn, a resident at Riverview Rehabilitation & Health Care Center, born in March of 1905, is the current oldest living South Dakotan.
When told of her place in South Dakota history, Keehn laughed and said, “Oh my land, I think I’ll have to move to North Dakota!” With good humor, she lightheartedly credits this milestone achievement to “running barefoot and drinking lots of water … I have to say I’m proud. It’s something a little bit exciting.”
She became “Dolly” when her younger brother couldn’t say “Dagmar,” and the nickname held. The oldest of nine children, Keehn left school in the ninth grade to help take care of her family following her mother’s death from tuberculosis. At age 12, she was helping her father out in the fields, learning to plow. The flies would buzz around and bother the horses, and this sweet-spirited girl would get down to swat the flies away and then quickly return to work.
Keehn stayed and helped her family on the farm until marrying schoolteacher William Keehn. They moved to the Flandreau area, where William taught in country schools. While she was a homemaker, her resume was far from static, changing often as different needs arose. According to daughter Lois, her mother's teacher’s salary often took the form of more tangible goods – eggs, a slab of beef, etc. – during the Depression, based on whatever the students’ families could provide during such tough times. To supplement their income, Keehn and her husband turned to raising gladiolas on an acreage east of town, shipping bulbs all across the United States to various warehousing companies. Each fall, they’d dig up and sort hundreds of bulbs, only to replant the following spring.
In addition to his career of teaching and grade school administration, William Keehn served as the Moody County Auditor. When term limits ended his service, she campaigned and won her husband's seat, serving as County Auditor for one term.
After their daughter graduated from high school, the Keehns moved to the Black Hills. William began to teach once more, but in the middle of the academic year, he suffered a severe heart attack and passed away. Rather than hire a new teacher for the remainder of the term, the students’ parents asked Dolly to stay and finish out the schoolyear as their teacher. With that, “Mrs. Keehn,” with only an eighth grade diploma, added “teacher” to her already full resume.
Keehn often talks about hard work and the importance of stepping in when called upon. “You find out you can learn a lot. Look around and see what’s happening. Get busy and help others. Look at every day as it comes, and see what you can do.”
Daughter Lois jokes that her mother’s “stubbornness” is the secret to her longevity. What some may consider a negative attribute, Keehn twisted toward the positive; in the face of adversity, her resilience and can-do attitude have steadfastly propelled her forward.
The Century Club is a creation of the South Dakota Health Care Association and has recognized over 1,000 South Dakotans since its beginning in 1997. Century Club sponsors created the Club to recognize both the contributions and the years of these special individuals.
The Century Club is open to residents of South Dakota upon the celebration of his or her 100th birthday. There are no dues and every inductee receives a specially designed certificate and membership card signed by sponsors. Once a year, the current oldest living Century Club Member is recognized as the “Centenarian of the Year.”
Names for the Century Club may be submitted online at www.sdhca.org and downloading a Century Club Application or by contacting LuAnn Severson, Century Club Coordinator, at 1-800-952-3052.