Last week, in Lynnfield held a 100th birthday party for a resident whose story begins in Bavaria, Germany, several years before World War I.
Clara Gerke grew up in a family with two brothers and seven sisters, in an era that historians most usually associate with the runaway inflation that devastated the German economy and led to a barter system in many areas.
At last week's birthday party, two of Gerke's sons, Robert and Raymond, were on hand, along with several other family members. Raymond told the gathering of friends, family and staff members about his mother's life - Originally, another sister, Matilde, was supposed to board a ship to America back in 1928. Instead, she decided not to, and 16-year-old sister Clara used her boarding pass. Of the nine Gerke siblings, five ended up moving to the United States.
Clara arrived in New York City after a nine-day voyage that included a large storm, and headed to join an older brother and two sisters in Buffalo working as household help. Her brother forbade her at the time from working in New York City, so she headed to work at a household in Bethlehem, Penn. - a job she would soon quit and then move to New York City. Raymond added that although this was the height of the Depression, Clara got a domestic job with a family in New York City that traveled to Europe each year. Clara joined them for five of these trips - and got to make a return visit to Bavaria in 1935.
Raymond also reported that during this visit back home, Clara's mother gave her a "one-page letter admonishing (her) for her independence." He added that he actually had the letter, written in German, with him that day.
In 1935, Clara also met her future husband Oscar and they married in 1936, settling on Long Island - and even owning a mink farm for one five-year period. The couple moved to Southport, NC, where Oscar died in 1984, and Clara stayed in that area for another 25 years before moving into Sunrise in Lynnfield to be closer to her sons.
"I have to say that her story has not ended, it continues," said Raymond.