ASHLAND -- I recently had the pleasure of engaging in a wonderful conversation with Bernice "Bunny" Wachtel, who has lived in Ashland County her entire life -- a full century.
An avid reader and teller-of-jokes, Bunny has a contagious smile that lights up the room. She has three kids, six grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
If there was a curtain shielding Bunny from my view during this interview, I would have thought she was a middle-aged public speaker. She was cunning, affectionate and downright hilarious.
Bunny was born in Loudonville on Aug. 18, 1919, only one year after the conclusion of World War I. She graduated with a class of 47 individuals.
“Our family had no money," Bunny said. "We came up during the Depression and Mom probably did without much to keep us kids going.
"Dad worked on the railroad.”
Bunny resides at The Good Shepherd Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Campus, 622 Center St., Ashland. She is the oldest of the 125 people living there.
She is a big supporter of the United States veterans. Her husband served in World War II and her son served overseas as well. Her biggest influence was the 16th president of the United States: Abraham Lincoln. She collected books, which she would read cover-to-cover, and other Lincoln memorabilia.
“I just admire him so much," Bunny said. "I had close to 400 books about him.
"He was hated but yet he never said anything bad about anyone. I would read books over and over again. I can still remember the first book I checked out of the public library.”
It's a common sight to see her dressed head-to-toe in a bunny outfit; earning her the nickname "Bunny."
She was hired at a post office in Loudonville during World War II. The post office was in need of workers due to all of the men being drafted for the war.
“I loved that job," Bunny said. "I was the first gal that ever worked down there.
"That was back when we had penny-and-a-half stamps and 3-cent stamps. I started on the first day of December and in one month I lost 22 pounds.”
Bunny's husband was a cook during the war, so she had to stay at home with her children. She recounted blissfully the day the war ended.
“I remember when the war was over and the bells rang," she said. "Of course, I lost my job at the post office when all the men came back from the war.”
World War II brought a lot of sorrow to the community, too. Bunny recalled one individual in particular who passed away suddenly even after he had returned home from the war.
“I knew one young boy about 5 years younger than me who was captured and put into a concentration camp," Bunny said. "He finally came home, but he only lived a short time after that.
"He picked up so many diseases at the Japanese concentration camps that he couldn’t make it.”
Despite her age, Bunny still has an adventurous spirit. Last year, she visited Mapleton School District to celebrate their 100th day of school and talk to the students.
Over the summer, Bunny took a helicopter ride over Ashland with Mayor Matt Miller. It was the first time she had ever been in a helicopter.
“I didn’t get scared once," Bunny said. "I couldn’t get over how small the swimming pools looked.”
I inquired if she had ever thought about going into a hot air balloon during Ashland's annual Balloonfest. She seemed very intrigued at the thought of it.
Bunny is a sweetheart and incredibly kind. However, she did have a mischievous side to her as a young girl. She filled me in about the time she was hit by a car at the age of five.
“My sister and I were picking violets," Bunny said. "I was 5 and ran out in front of a car in Loudonville.
"It hit me. I still remember being tossed in the air. That car couldn’t have been going very fast – it was 1925.”
When Bunny was in grade school, a boy that she had a crush on gave her a chocolate witch. That must have started the ball rolling, because her favorite food is chocolate to this day. And she frequently indulges in it on a daily basis - deservedly so.
Bunny explained that the two things that have changed the most in her hundred years are cars and medical advancements.