Superior woman reflects on a century of life
Though she may be small in stature, Nyla Prosser's alto voice was never one to fade into the background especially at events like the annual Superior Ecumenical Christmas Program. Each December Prosser would sing with the choir and typically do a solo hymn as well. Next week the singing will be done for Nyla as she turns 100 years old on September 19. (Amy Quinlivan/Mineral Independent)
Mineral Independent | September 13, 2023 12:00 AM
Nyla Prosser, of Superior, is known for having a melodious singing voice, her even sweeter disposition, and an ever-ready willingness to help others.
On Sept. 19, she’ll also be recognized for becoming a centenarian, as she celebrates her 100th birthday.
Born in Linton, North Dakota in 1923, Prosser grew up on a farm in a log cabin with no electricity or running water. As a child, she endured the Great Depression, fell in love and married a man who fought in World War II, and has beheld unbelievable change in her 10 decades of life.
She laughed incredulously, “I can’t believe I’m going to be 100.” Prosser added, “That sure went by fast!”
But back at the beginning, on a five-acre farm with two brothers and three sisters, horses, cows, pigs, and chickens, Prosser’s childhood was quintessential of that era. “Dad worked, so it was me and my brother who did all the farm labor,” she recalled. There were no phones, televisions, and plenty of chores to be completed, kids were tough, responsible, and independent.
“I was pretty darn good at mucking out a barn,” remarked Prosser.
But when she wasn’t moving hay, or milking cows, her Mom taught her to knit, crochet, and embroider. And those were passions and skills that Prosser continued on with later in life. As a young country girl at the start of the Depression, Prosser learned resiliency as did the rest of the nation.
“Everyone had to pitch in back then to just get by, wages were so low and the economy was so bad,” Prosser reflected. “My brother would tell me we were poor, but we didn’t know it, cause everyone else was in the same boat. Times were hard.” America’s Great Depression was a time of starvation or subsistence for many families. Planting gardens, canning, mending clothes, and creative frugality meant for greater chances of survival.
Prosser conveyed, “Right now with the way this country is headed, these young people are going to have to wake up. Kids just throw things away, and have no regard for money or value.”
In her day, people worked hard to make things last, and that included relationships. Prosser shared,
“My husband and I were married 41 years, we met when I was just 14, and then waited eight years for him to return from the service.”
After saying their vows, her husband Kenneth was employed in the shipyards of Bremerton, Washington as a machinist. Through the years Prosser held jobs as a dishwasher at a local hospital and worked her way up to a nurse’s aide with only an eighth-grade education.
She noted, “I only made it that far in school cause my mom needed me to work and help out on the farm.”
Kenneth and Nyla started a family and were graced with three sons and a daughter. Prosser was always involved in the children’s school activities, PTA, and various clubs.
A hobby and interest from Prosser’s childhood was doing crafts, so much so that she opened up her own craft store when she lived in Oregon and taught classes through her business.
The Prossers had a core group of friends, about six couples whom they met with on a weekly basis for cards and camaraderie.
She detailed, “Every Friday, we’d get together and the older kids would babysit the younger ones, and us adults would play Pinochle. We did that for many years, and we’d all go camping together, it was just a wonderful group of friends.”
Prosser can’t attribute her longevity to any specific reason, she never maintained a special diet or exercise regimen. She doesn’t swear by any special vitamins or supplements, but one thing that has stuck with her through the years is her tenacity.
“I’m pretty stubborn,” confessed Prosser. “I have been on my own a lot in life. At 13 I left home. My husband has been gone now for over 30 years. Being alone, you have to make yourself get up and keep going every day. You just have to keep at it, and not quit.”
One simple joy that has carried her throughout her lifetime though, is music.
“I started singing when I was three years old,” Prosser reminisced. She never formally had lessons but learned to play the piano by ear. At eleven, the minister of her church asked her mother’s permission to have her join the adult choir. With her strong alto voice and honeyed refrain, Prosser and her sister began playing music together at churches all around North Dakota. The Sweet Harmonies, the name of their sisterly duo, had requests from fellowships an hour away for the Prosser twosome to come serenade with gospel songs.
“One time I got brave and called up the local radio station in Mandan,” recalled Prosser. “I asked what are the chances of coming in and auditioning? Told my Sis to go grab her guitar, we went that day and got our very own program singing on air.”
While the time is short in these bittersweet twilight years, Prosser hopes to be remembered most for her caring heart.
“I always tried to help others, if anyone ever needed a hand, I did my best to be there,” she expressed. Like the time she took in a younger homeless man, that had never known a mother’s love.
Prosser gave him a roof over his head, and food to eat, then encouraged him to make his way in life.
She said proudly, “I helped him get a job as a truck driver; he was so excited when he got his first paycheck. I told him you go open a bank account and you put it in there and don’t touch it.”
Who knows where that man would be today had it not been for the love and influence of Prosser?
Next week on her birthday she knows her daughter, Bonnie, will be there for the celebration, as well as he younger sister who is 97.
Surrounded by friends and loved ones while sitting behind the glow of an impressive number of candles, it will be Nyla Prosser’s turn to let others sing to her.