Calhoun County

Calhoun Centenarian: Doris Farmer's children say she gave them the perfect childhood

Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Calhoun County series. As part of our regular coverage of all things Battle Creek and Calhoun County, in coming weeks On the Ground will be highlighting the centenarian stories on our website and social media platforms.

Born at home during a snowstorm in Big Rapids, Doris Farmer, 103, was one of four siblings. When Doris was 3 years old her mother, Mable, passed away from a brain tumor. Her father Finny, a logger, could not care for his children because his work frequently kept him from home, so the children were sent to live with different relatives.

Doris went to live with her grandmother, while her youngest sister was adopted by an aunt. Although they were separated, they kept in touch. When she was 7 years old, she returned to live with her father after he remarried, and the family moved to Eckford Township in Calhoun County. She attended school until the 9th grade in the local one-room schoolhouse with her future husband, Leroy.

In May of 1936, at age 18, she married Leroy. As it was the middle of the Great Depression, money was extremely tight, and they had to come up with a cost-effective way to build their home. They heard about railroad cars for sale that were inexpensive, so they purchased them and used the wood for their new home. Together they had six children: three boys and three girls. Although the house they built was small, it was where all the neighborhood kids gathered regularly.

Doris Farmer speed her wheelchair around her assisted living center.Doris and Leroy were very involved in the neighborhood, keeping an eye on all the area children, and serving on the school board. Doris cleaned the schoolhouse with her daughters, did the cooking for the school’s Head Start program, and made sure that the milk orders were delivered correctly. Doris baked bread, cinnamon rolls, and big dinner rolls along with a large pot of beans each week. She tended a large garden, canning everything that was grown. She liked to listen to the TV show Laugh In while doing the dinner dishes and her children would hear her giggle during the particularly funny parts.

She always seemed to manage to do several things at once, such as making flashcards and quizzing the kids while she did the laundry. One of her children’s favorite memories was waking up in the morning to find their mother standing in her bathrobe in front of the heat register soaking up the warmth. 

Doris loves baseball and is a devoted Tigers fan. She could often be found outside playing ball with the kids after the chores were finished. At family reunions, they always knew where to find her because she would start ball games. She was the one who took her boys to their Little League baseball games and cheered the loudest.

In her retirement, Doris went back to school and successfully completed her GED in 1986. Her family threw her a combined graduation and 50th wedding anniversary party that year. She always felt that an education was extremely important and made sure her children understood that they must stay in school. 

Some of her greatest joys in life are her grandchildren, and she never said no to an opportunity to watch them. She enjoyed doing art, singing karaoke, and watching NASCAR races -- Jeff Gordon being her favorite driver. She has walked the Mackinac Bridge four times. She appeared on the TODAY Show’s Smucker jam jar,  an opportunity for people who turn 100 years old the chance to see their face printed on a Smucker’s jar the show has offered for many years.  

Now that Doris is in assisted living, she maneuvers her wheelchair like Jeff Gordon, racing up and down the hallways. She always joins in on the staff meetings as their unofficial note taker. Doris is a very positive person and never lets things get her down, including a colon cancer diagnosis in 1965. During difficult and sad times, such as the passing of her son Michael at the age of 19, Doris relied on her faith to get her through it. She is also known to have a very big heart, taking in stray animals. She handed out sugar sandwiches or anything else she had to offer to the people that found their way to her doorstep during the Great Depression.

Doris’ greatest accomplishment was raising her children. Growing up, her own mother passed away when she was quite young, and when her father remarried, her stepmother was not kind to her. When she and Leroy wed, she vowed to be the mother she never had. Her children say she gave them the perfect childhood.