Once you’re a farmer…
At 92, Verna Dotterer still has milking skills
By WENDY STIVER
MILL HALL — Verna Dotterer returned in late January from a trip to Kenya.
It was not her first trip to that nation — she and her husband, the late Ralph Dotterer Sr., raised “a traveling family,” she said.
However, it was probably the first time she was called upon to demonstrate her milking skills for a Kenyan audience.
Verna, who is 92, has enjoyed her trips abroad to visit Harald Karlsnes and his wife. The Dotterers hosted Harald when he was a Norwegian exchange student at the former Mill Hall High School, 50 years ago. Verna has visited him about 10 times, she said, twice in Kenya where he represented the Norwegian government before his recent retirement.
Her daughter, Dorothy Gardler of Philadelphia, accompanied her on this trip, which included a visit to a dairy farm that makes cheese and ice cream. They and about a dozen other people toured the farm, Verna said, and when the guide asked for a volunteer milker, Verna was volunteered to show how milking by hand is done.
“I did all right,” she said. “You don’t forget how.”
Some 75 years ago, as a 16-year-old freshman, she was declared the co-ed milking champion of Penn State College, now Pennsylvania State University. She milked three and a-half quarts, by hand, in two minutes during the 20th annual College Dairy Exposition. She competed against five other co-eds and won by a quart.
“I just enjoy being the kind of person I am — I like competition,” she said. “I think I get more done.”
She was also featured, with three other young ladies, on the cover of the November 1942 edition of the publication “Penn State Farmer.”
A home economics major, she was Verna Rothermel in those days.
She grew up in Rough and Ready, Pa., near where Dauphin, Northumberland and Schuylkill counties all come together, in a family that spoke Pennsylvania Dutch. English was something of a second language to her.
She attended Penn State during World War II, and while finishing her degree, she also accepted the challenge of teaching full time at Boalsburg High School. She graduated at 19, earning a degree that included minors in English and science.
She “happened to meet” Ralph Dotterer on campus, she said.
“I grew up on a farm and said I’d never marry a farmer,” she said. “I don’t know what happened. I married the biggest farmer in Clinton County at the time, I think.”
Verna taught home economics at Mill Hall High School before taking time off to start a family. She eventually returned to teaching, joining the faculty of the new Bald Eagle-Nittany High School in Mill Hall. She was also the advisor for Future Homemakers of America (FHA).
She and Ralph had three children, sons Charlie and Ralph Jr. and daughter Dotty.
The family hosted three full-time exchange students, Harald, a boy from the Philippines, and a girl from Australia. They also hosted young adults through Farm Youth Exchange.
“I’ve had the most wonderful exchange students. They fit right into the family and continued the relationship,” Verna said.
Her children were inspired to travel. Charlie went on exchange to Austria, Dotty went on exchange to Belgium, and Ralph has traveled as well.
Verna and Ralph Sr. farmed on family land, on Nittany Valley Drive near Lamar. In 2019, the farm will mark its 200th year of being in the same family.
The couple started with dairy cows, then added a milk business which they ran for about eight years. They then left the dairy business and turned to raising beef animals.
These days their sons rent out the farm to cousins Paul Dotterer and Sons, but both Charlie and Ralph Jr. remain active in farming in some way or another.
Ralph Sr. passed away 10 years ago, and Verna is retired… but as she says, once a farmer, always a farmer. You never know when you might be asked to milk a cow.