In New Miller, down in Towner, N.D., parents Joseph and Magdalena Schneider gave birth to a baby girl March 3, 1911. Little did they know their precious bundle, Barbara, would occupy the Earth until Aug. 3, 2018, passing away at 107 years.
Nor did they know 107 years of history would be captured for posterity in the diaries that Barbara kept throughout her life. She always managed to write daily in her diaries – a time capsule of her amazing life, with the joy, trials and memories coming to life as they are read.
Barbara was born into a family of nine, with parents who came from Russia. The family spoke fluent German as they had originally came from Germany and moved to Russia to seek shelter after the First World War broke out. Barbara remembered a few things from the United States, telling family and friends that the land was very dry and not very good for crops. The family had prairie land on the farm, so they had cattle and were able to milk the cows. They sold cream and butter as their primary income, with butter going to the store in a nearby town and cream to the creamer. There was a little river by their farm, which they named the Red River. This is where the family of nine would go to bathe daily. Barbara and her father would also go there with a net and fish from the river pulling out two- to three-inch fish to eat. There was also a well for water about three minutes away from their house, down by a slough. One day, while watching the pigs swimming in the slough, Barbara fell into the little well. Fortunately it held only knee-deep water. Her sister ran for help and Barbara was soon pulled from there.
The house on the farm was a sod house and at the other end of the living quarters was where they kept the horses. That way they could listen to the horses and know that they were alright through the night. Later, they built a barn for the animals. In the summer months they would be haying so they could stock food for the cattle during the winter months feed.
Barbara has been in school one month in the fall of 1917, travelling in a closed-in sleigh, when her father decided to move the family by train to Canada, where there was better farmland. Her father had three boxcars upon which to load up the cattle, horses and machinery, watched over by her three brothers. Barbara and the rest of the family rode in another part of the train. They arrived in Leader, where there was an uncle who they stayed with for four days, later moving on to a farm a short distance from Leader. They stayed there for one year and decided they would move, as the land was dry. Barbara is quoted that the grass never turned green, so her father went north to look for farmland in the Revenue and Tramping Lake area. During that same summer Barbara’s father, three brothers and sister went to Revenue and broke up the prairie. They had just had one quarter the first summer. In the fall of 1918, the family packed up their belongings in wagons, hayracks, two buggies and left for Revenue for their new home.
It took three days to get from Leader to Revenue, crossing the South Saskatchewan River by ferry. They slept under the open sky the first night. The second night they stayed with people who asked them to spend the night. The women had a bedroom in the house that night and the boys slept outside again. The third night they arrived at their new home, which was a shack on the open prairies. The three brothers who had gone by train were already at the farm in Revenue and everyone was very excited to see one another again. Barbara was seven years old.
The family right away started building a house of reused lumber from a building on the property that had been demolished. The children did not go to school that winter, as everyone was busy building the house before winter set in. They lived four miles from Revenue.
In 1918 the influenza epidemic raced all over the prairies and many died. Barbara’s whole family was sick, which left her father who walked with a cane for weeks to do the daily chores around the farm. Barbara’s mother, regardless of how sick she was, would get up and attend to everyone and to make food, but no one could eat very much. Everyone pulled through and they were thankful they were healthy. In the spring, Barbara and her sister started school walking the four miles to Revenue. Once home from school and the long walk, the children were busy milking the cows and other farm chores until nighttime.
By that summer, her oldest brother Lambert was married, and the new couple had a baby girl. On a hot and dry July day a severe electrical storm was raging across the prairie right above their farm. They all went for shelter. Barbara’s father and two brothers went for shelter in the small house while her older brother Lambert stayed in the other house to watch the storm. He leaned on the windowsill to watch the rain and storm, but a lightning bolt hit the house and Lambert at age 24 died from electrocution. His newborn daughter was only six months old at the time.
There was no school in the winter as it was too far to go until they started to go to a country school. Barbara was 15 years old when she passed Grade 8 in 1926. She stayed on the farm helping with the cattle, chores and machinery until she married her husband Rochuz Risling in 1930. For the first two years of their marriage, Barbara and Rochuz lived with his parents on their farm until they moved a house onto a farm four miles from Revenue. Eventually, seven children filled the little farmhouse.
In 1948, there was so much snow you could just see the tip of the house from the farm, which was in a low-lying area, and in the spring, there was so much water that it was running right through the house. Rochuz went to get the children who were walking home and, just as the water started to flood the farm, Barbara and her husband placed the children in the loft of the barn, as well as the chickens and the feed. They loaded the pigs up and took them to a neighbouring farm to save them. Three days later the water receded, and they were able to resume living in the house, but after some thought they decided to move to different land.
In and around 1949-1950 the family moved to a farm only two miles north of their old farm. Barbara exclaimed, “Now we had everything we wanted.”
The new property, located one and a half miles from the nearest school, had a windmill in the middle of the yard, so they didn’t have to carry water to their home. They also had a telephone, which was new to them, and a furnace in the basement. There were four bedrooms, which had to hold all the children, but they made do. As the children grew up, they started their careers and young families of their own.
Time was moving fast for Barbara and her husband and the time came in 1970, when they couldn’t sell their wheat, that Hutterites bought the land around them. It was decided it was time to sell up. They purchased land three miles out of Scott, where the family farm is today, and Barbara and her husband started farming again for a couple of years, before officially retiring.
She was a loving wife and mother blessed with eight healthy and successful children with her faith a part of her daily life. She was not only a homemaker, she worked the fields and turned up the prairie lands with the men, as well as milking the cows, taking care of the chickens and breaking horses, all the while taking care of the children and taking care of their home. She ensured that each of her children were safe always, in her heart and in prayers.
Living for 107 years, she saw many changes, but the ones Barbara truly enjoyed included running water in her final home (with a bathtub), something we take for granted today, no more washing in the basin or going to fetch water. What a change from the sod house with the horses right next to them, and the strenuous chores that accompanied them. Barbara exclaimed, “It was almost like dying and going to heaven,” referring to the new inventions that made life much easier for her, her husband and their children. When Barbara got their first electric stove, she was elated. Not having to put coal or wood in the stove to heat it was a blessing. “All I had to do was turn the knob on the stove and it would heat,” she was truly amazed.
In 1988, her beloved husband Rochuz passed away suddenly due to a heart aneurism at the age of 79. Barbara moved into Scott, and celebrated her 100th birthday in her home in Scott and, because she was the oldest living person in the community, they named a street after her – “Barbara Risling Drive,” with the sign standing in front of the house she lived in.
When she was 103 years old, after a couple of falls, she moved into Poplar Courts Special Care Home in Wilkie. She had a medical alert bracelet but just needed that little extra care and attention. She loved that there were other residents she knew and staff who knew her. Using her walker to get to the dining room, sharing the meals with friends and later going for a walk up and down the halls, she always had a smile on her face. Until the day she passed away she wrote in her diaries, writing the names of a few ladies that were her friends.
With loved ones around her she quietly passed away Aug. 3, 2018 at Poplar Courts. She had 25 grandchildren, 35 great-grandchildren and 27 great-great-grandchildren who were blessed with an amazing “Grandma.”
Out of the oldest living people in of Canada, Barbara was the 27th oldest living lady as of 2018 and the third oldest living in Saskatchewan, enjoying life, its blessings, trials and tribulations, but most importantly, loved by many.
Barbara kept diaries throughout her life, writing until the day she died. She always wanted to be a teacher and, if things had been different when she was growing up, that’s what she would have become. She loved to write and the stack of day-to-day personal diaries tell the tale. The diaries are beautifully written. In one dated 1963-1971, the opening reads, “I started to write this Diary book in 1963, I was 52 years old, and this week I will be 85 on March 3, 1996. I have been writing a daily diary for 32 years so far. This book will continue to the next book. I now have six books and started my 7th daily diary, 1996.”
Barbara may not have had the opportunity to become a teacher, but she did teach with those amazing diaries that hold a time capsule of history.
It has been a year since she passed away, but her family will always have the treasure of her handwritten diaries, telling the stories of days gone by, and leaving her family to write the rest of her story.