Sylvia Wroblewski, age 92, and her husband, Ted, celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary last week at St. Joseph Residence.
Ted is 97 years old, and has dementia, but they celebrated nonetheless.
A visit and a blessing from Bishop Banks marked the occasion.
“I may look good for 92, but I worked hard all my life and I haven’t always been the picture of health,” explains Sylvia. “I’ve had 11 surgeries altogether.” But from appendix to gall bladder surgeries, she takes it all in stride.
“What can you do? You just have to play out the hand you’re dealt.”
Sylvia learned this early on. Born in 1918, the youngest of 10 children, Sylvia only completed the fourth grade in grammar school.
“It was not easy for my mother,” she recalls. “She needed us working to make ends meet. She was sick for many years, too.” Sylvia said her father emigrated from Germany and did not know the English language when he came to the United States.
Sylvia rattled off the list of chores that were expected to keep a large household running. She learned to sew at age 8, but there was always something more that had to be done, so she only sewed when she had to. “We worked from morning until dark. And we had to do it the right way. My mother used to stand at my bed and watch me make it, to be sure I did it right.”
Besides the household chores, there was the two- and a half mile walk to and from a neighboring farm each day to milk the cows. There was the garden to plant and weed in summer, canning in the fall and maple syrup to tap and gather in winter. That’s when the farmers, including her father, and later her husband’s brothers, would head north to work in the lumber camps. In fall there were also potatoes to dig. A bushel would only pay two and a half cents. This was during the Great Depression.
Ted and Sylvia married when she was 17. They had three children; Daughter Connie passed away several years ago; and one daughter died in infancy. Son Bob, who Sylvia describes as easy-going, is now retired, and ‘takes care of us.’
Sylvia never dreamed she’d work in a scrap yard, but that’s how it turned out. The family moved to Manawa in 1964 and soon after, Ted started a scrap yard in the back yard on Howard Street. “It wasn’t such a bad living; it was dirty work, but whatever came in the fence, you dealt with it,” she said matter-of-factly.
The front piece of their property is where the couple lived, in a tidy little house surrounded by flowers, the work of Sylvia. “I loved my flowers and I worked a lot of hours in my flower gardens. I got told I never sit still plenty of times. I guess that was true. We lived in that house over 60 years.”
The Wroblewski’s had a partnership not only in marriage, but in business. Sylvia did the books with her fourth grade education, and they always seemed to balance. Even now she says she reads the newspaper, piecing words together. She also worked right beside her husband with cleaning and sorting of copper, brass and iron before it went to the scrap buyer. The children grew up around the business too.
“There’s a lot of work in scrap.” she explains. “You have to separate all the metals or they don’t pay you as much for it. That means taking everything apart. We had bins for all the different metals, and we’d load the bins up and take it to Madison, Fond du Lac, Milwaukee, Green Bay – where they were paying the best price for metal that week.”
One thing Sylvia never did was learn how to drive. But Ted would drive for miles picking metal. Threshing machines were the biggest thing they ever dealt with. “Tin wasn’t worth much, and it was a lot of work smashing it down. We used a sledge hammer. We didn’t have a crusher or masher.”
“We never took scrap on Sundays and people would get mad at us, but that was our day of rest.” On Sundays they attended church at Sacred Heart regularly, and Ted would go hunting or fishing. Sometimes they would visit friends. “We never junked on Sundays.”
“There are hooks and crooks in every trade,” says Sylvia. “I guess we knew how to make the most of just about anything by the time we were done.”
Nowadays, Sylvia enjoys her leisurely sewing and is working on another chair pad for her rocker. She points to the old sewing machine that sits under a quilted cover she made for it. “I enjoy sewing. What else am I going to do with my time?” She visits with her husband several times a day, and he still has good days.
And so it goes. No idle hands here.