After 100 years, Frances Kompus is still trying to catch up with her big sisters.
Kompus celebrated her 100th birthday on Nov. 11. Helping celebrate were her sisters Julia Kopriva, who turned 104 earlier in November, and Lucy Pochop, who had her 102nd birthday in June.
Overall, about 50 people joined Kompus at the party at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in her northwest Kansas town of Atwood. It’s the same church where they were baptized and confirmed, and where each was married over the years. “I loved it,” Kompus said in an interview recently. “It was a good party.”
Growing up on a farm in Beardsley, Kansas, with two older sisters, Kompus always had companionship. She recalled having to “run to keep up with her sisters” on the 2-mile walk to school. “I always did what they did,” Kompus said. “Sometimes that was working and sometimes that was fun.”
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Their grandparents immigrated from Czechoslovakia and became farmers in Rawlins County. They had no brothers, so the three girls would work the farm for their parents.
Frances told how she would run the tractor “for half a day at a time,” often pulling a one-way disc plow or a rod weeder. “It was good on the farm,” she said. “I had a few geese to play with and even had some roosters I made pets.”
On their farm, which is about 9 miles from Atwood, they also ate “good home food,” butchering their own hogs, she said. Even during lean times such as the Great Depression, her mother would cook chicken and serve meals of dried beans, Kompus said.
She credits eating well as one reason for her long life, and Kompus is happy that the Good Samaritan Society home in Atwood, which she moved into in December 2019, has good meals, too.
Other keys to longevity, Kompus said: Be social, walk a lot and, simply, “Keep going.”
Rosalie Ross, editor of the Rawlins County Square Deal newspaper in Atwood, has interviewed and written about each of the sisters as they have hit milestones over the years. Ross said Kompus told her, “Well, we didn’t ever eat fancy, but we ate good food.”
“They were farm wives and hardworking women. … They raised good kids, some of them still farming here,” Ross said in an interview with USA TODAY. “Of course, the interesting thing is all of them are 100 and all of them are in really relatively good health.”
Talking to them “was so much fun. They laugh and talk and remember,” Ross said. “I would say it was delightful. It’s a glimpse into history.”
One story told to her by Julia Kopriva stood out, Ross said. When Julia was in first grade, she couldn’t be in the school play because they couldn’t understand her – the family spoke Czech at home. But by the end of the year, Julia had learned English and had taught her sisters and parents how to speak English, too.
“So you’ve got a determined little kid (who said), ‘This ain’t happening any more,'” Ross said.
Said sister Lucy Pochop in a separate interview recently, “We done in those days what had to be done.”
Perhaps the biggest change in their lives came when the 1936 passage of the Rural Electrification Act eventually brought electricity to their farm, Ross said. “Then they could have freezers, refrigerators and small appliances, yard lights and electricity to read by,” she said.
Even though the sisters have always been close, the time they spent together grew as each became widows and moved into adjoining apartments in Atwood, said Kompus’ daughter Fran Allacher, who lives in nearby McCook, Nebraska. Each of the sisters had children and are grandmothers. Kompus and Kopriva are great-great grandmothers, too.
After Lucy moved into an apartment next to Julia in 2000, “it was nothing for them to play cards every night of the week, and dominoes – that was their thing,” Allacher said. “They just got together and they’ve been their support for each other, forever.”
The sisters loved to attend polka dances growing up in the local Czech community and until recent years gathered to watch the Mollie B Polka Party show on RFD-TV on weekends, Allacher said.
“Yes, a lot of dancing in our younger days,” Kompus said.
They discussed their upbringing in a recent interview with Wichita, Kansas NBC TV affiliate KSN. Pochop remembered how on her first day of school, “Dad took us to school in a wagon.”
When she was a girl, Kopriva told USA TODAY, she was glad to have her sisters around, and they always got along. “I’m glad we had company. We got to play together,” Kopriva said. But, she said, as the oldest, “I get to be boss.”
“We’ve been together all of our lives around Rawlins County and Atwood,” said Pochop, whose son, Victor Holub, who still farms the family homestead, started in 1917.
In motherhood, they would call one another two or three times a day, said her daughter Valyne Pochop, who lives in St. Joseph, Missouri. “We always had family holiday celebrations with the aunts and uncles and cousins and, of course, Grandpa and Grandma when they were alive. They’ve always been very close,” she said.
They were so close they were known as “The Three Musketeers,” Pochop said. “They’ve always been involved in each other’s lives. That’s just pretty amazing.”
Also amazing? Even today, “I don’t think (any of us) feel that old,” big sister Kopriva said.
Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @mikesnider.
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