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Skarda sisters reflect on life, celebrate milestone birthdays

Mamye Cohron, left, of Atlantic visits her sister Anna Linkey at Clearview Home in Mount Ayr, where Linkey resides. This week, the sisters celebrated their 100th and 102nd, respectively.
Mamye Cohron, left, of Atlantic visits her sister Anna Linkey at Clearview Home in Mount Ayr, where Linkey resides. This week, the sisters celebrated their 100th and 102nd, respectively.

As two sisters celebrate their birthday, they both pass it off as just another day. 

“I just don’t like this fussy stuff,” said Anna Linkey. “I don’t like to be the center of attention.”

Today, Linkey turns 102, just one week after her sister Mayme Cohron turned 100 on Aug. 28. 

The beginning

The sisters, born in Bolivar, Missouri, to Joe and Josie Skarda, grew up with their brothers Richard, Harry and Elbert on their family farm in rural Ringgold County, just outside of Mount Ayr, where they moved to in 1922.

Growing up on a farm was hard work, but it’s the farm life they attribute to their longevity.

“I think my mother had a lot to do with that,” said Cohron. “She started us out eating the right kinds of food ... We always had meat, because we lived on a farm. We had ... fruit trees. She always had a vegetable garden ... and, I think we got a good start right from the beginning.”

Both Cohron and Linkey, who attended country school, are graduates of Mount Ayr High School, where they played inter-class basketball and participated in Teachers Training League, which was required to teach in a country school.

Cohron said it was their father who decided the sisters would become teachers.

“It was hard times then,” said Linkey. “It was in the 1930s and my dad said he couldn’t afford to send us to college.”

The program, which was offered in high school, allowed the sisters to teach upon graduating, permitting they were at least 18-years-old and unmarried. Linkey and Cohron, still not quite old enough to work after graduation, stayed home to help their parents on the farm milking cows and feeding chickens. However, Linkey dreamed of moving to the “big city” for a change.

“Some of the girls did it, but my folks didn’t want me to,” said Linkey. “That just scared them to heaven.”

However, once the girls each turned 18, they taught in a single-room country school just north of Tingley, in Union County. 

“There was a place to hang your coat, a place to put your lunch and outdoor bathrooms, of course,” said Cohron. “I rode a horse for three and a half miles to get to school. I’d have to get there early to start the fire and have time to warm up the building.”

Linkey taught from 1934 to 1938 and Cohron from 1936 to 1938. Neither Cohron or Linkey felt teaching was their calling.

“I had the nicest bunch of children a person could have and the parents were wonderful, but it just didn’t satisfy me. They had a law if you were married, you couldn’t teach school. So, I got married,” said Linkey with a chuckle. 

In 1938, Cohron married Gayland Stephens. Together they had two children, Sharon (Price) and Patt (Mitchell). That same year, Linkey married Leo Linkey. The Linkeys had two children as well, Janis Lea (Taylor) and James D.

Cohron

The Stephens raised their family in Diagonal, where Cohron (then Stephens) went to work at a grocery store after her husband Leo’s sudden death in 1961. It was there where Cohron was approached by a local banker from First State Bank, who, while purchasing a package of cookies, offered her part-time work. After a year at the grocery store, Cohron started as a teller, took insurance training and eventually worked as an agent, before becoming vice president.

Although Cohron became vice president of a bank in an era where leadership roles for women weren’t typical, Cohron said her greatest accomplishment was simply being able to raise her children and make it on her own.

In 1977, Cohron followed her daughter Patt to Atlantic, where she worked in the insurance industry and met Donald Cohron, who she married in 1987. The pair then moved to Lake of the Ozarks, in Missouri, before St. George, Utah. The Cohrons returned to Atlantic in 2006, after Donald developed Alzheimer’s disease.

Linkey

Linkey, who was a homemaker, worked at the same grocery store as her sister, once her children were in grade school. While at work, Harold Turnbull of the Diagonal Reporter asked her if she’d like to learn the newspaper trade. 

“I thought, ‘yes, I would,’” said Linkey.

Linkey worked at the Diagonal Progress from 1954 to 1961 as a linotype operator. She said the job didn’t pay much, but it was exciting work. It was there where she learned a bit of advice that always stuck with her.

“They (the obituary writer) always had to write something about a person. This one person they had to write about was a little bit different. She sat there and looked out the window and finally said, ‘Harold, what can I say about so and so?’” said Linkey.

Linkey said Turnbull then turned toward the woman and grinned.

“He said, ‘ There’s something good about everybody. You just have to dig a little bit harder sometimes,’” said Linkey. “I’ve always remembered that. If someone’s impression isn’t right, you should probably look a little bit deeper.”

Linkey also said Turnbull helped her believe in herself.

At the time Linkey’s son graduated high school and was ready to attend junior college in Creston, the Creston News Advertiser happened to have an opening. She was intrigued, but nervous to make the move to a larger company.

“I didn’t think I was good enough for that,” said Linkey. 

But Turnbull and his wife convinced her otherwise and talked her into applying. 

“They said, ‘Yes. You are ready,’” said Linkey. “So, I went and I got the job.”

Linkey retired from the Creston News Advertiser in 1979 after 18 years.

Growing up Skarda

Although the sisters couldn’t recall when their family migrated to the United States from Bohemia – located in the present day Czech Republic – they remember what it was like growing up Bohemian.

“My brother ... they talked Bohemian to him all the time,” said Linkey. “When he started school, all the kids spoke English, so he had quite the time for awhile, because all he knew was Bohemian.”

Linkey said, because her brother was made fun of by his peers, her parents started speaking only English around the children, unless, of course, they were trying to speak privately. But, she regrets not being able to communicate with her grandparents.

“It was handy for my folks. If they wanted to say something and didn’t want us to know, it was Bohemian,” said Linkey.

Linkey recalled her parents using the same tactic when speaking on the phone, as anyone could listen in to their conversations.

“Our ring was short, long and short,” said Linkey. “If that rang, and the neighbors wanted to know what Josie was going to be talking about, they would pick up the receiver and listen to it. So, when my folks would talk to my grandpa and grandma ... and didn’t want anyone else to know, they would start talking Bohemian. Mom said, you could just hear all the receivers click and hang up.”

Sisterhood

As Cohron and Linkey reflected on their childhood, the conversation painted a picture that indicated they were both the best of friends and fierce sibling rivals.

“We were really good friends,” said Linkey.

“We’d make playhouses. We’d take twine and go around trees and make rooms. We had orange crates as tables ... in our pans we’d have little shells or little goodies that we could cook,” said Linkey.

Linkey recalled the pair sneaking into the chicken coop to steal an egg to “cook” on their pretend stove, for which they were caught by their mother.

“How she could see through walls of a house, I have no idea,” said Linkey.

Cohron said, although they fought a lot, their relationship is wonderful now.

“I couldn’t think more of anybody than I do her,” said Linkey. “It’s just such a pleasure to get together, which we don’t get to do very often.”

However, in the same breath, Cohron laughed and said her sister “irritated” her when they were younger.

“She always got to wash the dishes and I had to wipe the dishes,” said Cohron. “She would always leave all the silverware in the bottom of our dish pan ... throw our dishwater (away) and say, ‘I’m through,’ and I’d have to finish.’”

Linkey recalled times her sister would eagerly be waiting to tattle on her.

“One time after we had dinner, we took our sleds to the pasture and coasted. When it was time and the bell rang for us to come in, I decided ... I could go down that hill faster on the road. So, I used my sled and went down the road instead of coasting the pasture. And, that sister of mine ... she told on me when we were getting ready to go home that night,” said Linkey.

Linkey recalled her sister’s small legs marching up the hill in an attempt to be the first to tell mom.

“My brother stayed back with me. We were calling her ... and she wouldn’t come. She wanted to get home to tell on me ... I’ll never forget it. She was so little and cute,” said Linkey.

Family celebrations

Cohron has four grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and six great-great-grandchildren. Linkey has six grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren and 5 great-great-grandchildren.

Cohron and Linkey, who spent time together in August, both celebrated this week with their immediate families in separate celebrations.

“When your grandkids have grandkids, you know you’re getting old,” said Cohron. 

Cohron, who was excited to celebrate with her children, grands and greats, said she kept blowing off people who told her how special this birthday was.

“But, turning 100 is something special,” she said.

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