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At age 83, Edna Sanner still works a part-time job coordinating the noon meal at the Billings Community Center.

As the center comes alive every weekday morning, Edna is there taking phone calls, talking with delivery men and warmly chatting with those greeting her by her first name.

Robin Grinsteiner, a city recreation supervisor, has worked with Edna for several years and said that Edna's tireless work ethic and positive attitude have impressed everyone at the center.

Listening to Edna tell her life's story, it's not hard to see where those work habits came from.

The oldest of 11 children, Edna grew up during the Great Depression.

Although times were rough, she doesn't look back on the 1930s with regret.

Her parents were loving, and her father, Homer Alexander, always made certain his family had enough to eat.

No matter how bad things were, Edna's mother, Lucille, made a cake in the family's wood-burning oven on each child's birthday. For Edna, Lucille always baked a coconut cake.

The children always got something for Christmas even when things were at their worst.

"It might have been only fruit or nuts, but always something," Edna said.

Born in 1925, Edna grew up in southeastern Oklahoma near the Texas border on a rented farm where her father raised corn for animal feed, peanuts, cotton and truck-farm produce such as watermelons and cucumbers.

Until his children chipped in to buy a tractor for him in the 1940s, farm work was done with horse-drawn equipment.

Even trips to Denison, Texas, eight miles away, were by horse and wagon for many years.

Later her family got a used Whippet, built by the Willys Overland Motor Co.

"We pushed it more than it ran," she said. "Those were the good old days."

Their next car, a Model A, was more reliable.

As the oldest child of a large family, Edna said, "Mom depended on me."

So did her father. With no hired help, Edna and the other children worked in the fields, hoeing weeds and picking cotton.

She was just 4 when the stock market crashed in 1929, and it wasn't until later that she heard the word "Depression." But she grew up in a world ruled by the consequences of the crash.

Money always was tight.

Even when a school bus was sent to pick up rural children to go to local high school ball games, sometimes she and her siblings could not afford the 5 cents to attend the game.

But her family never went hungry. That was in contrast to her husband's family, which lived in a ranch at Musselshell, Mont., and did have little food at times.

Even if things weren't perfect, the Alexanders had the good fortune to live in southeast Oklahoma and not in the western Panhandle of the state where the drought took its greatest toll, sending a stream of displaced people to California.

To help support the family, Edna began working in neighbors' fields by the time she was 9 or 10. She left school when she was 16 because she wanted to make money, she said.

She went to Denison and took a job cracking eggs in a plant that turned them into dried eggs used in U.S. military messes. It paid $10 a week.

Then she became a waitress for $11 a week.

After her brother and several cousins got jobs in a shipyard in Vancouver, Wash., she joined them.

She would work more than three years in a "Rosie the Riveter" job as a welder during World War II. Photos of her from that time show a pretty young woman dressed in leather overalls and jacket and her hair wrapped up in a kerchief to protect it from welding sparks.

It was there that she met her husband, Ray Sanner. They were married in 1945, when Edna was 20.

In 1949, they moved to Montana, where they had several restaurants in Custer and Billings, including Hungry Bear, O'Hara's and Lewis and Clark.

The couple raised four children, have eight grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.

Among the lessons that the Depression taught her was to be thoughtful and frugal about money and not waste food, she said.

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