Back Roads: Milford Hartman: Centenarian Continues to Lead an Active Life

Still active: Milford on his zero-turn mower

Milford Hartman is still living in his own home and doing quite well. He gets around without the use of a walker or cane and doesn’t frequent the doctor unless he’s sick, which he says is hardly ever.  Until recently he drove to church, the post office and grocery store near his Stuarts Draft home and over to Staunton when he needed something from the Farm Bureau. His memory is intact and his conversation is peppered with much good humor. This month, Milford will be 103 years of age, and this active centenarian is truly an amazing man.

Born December 21, 1918, Milford was the first of five children born to Wilber Carl and Elizabeth Showalter Hartman, who lived on a farm sandwiched between Waynesboro and Stuarts Draft.  In the early 1920s Milford’s father, Carl, kept a herd of Guernsey, Jersey and Holstein cows and began the “Early Dawn Dairy,” serving both locations with a horse and buggy operation. In 1925 Carl’s brother Walter became a partner and trucks were purchased, making the deliveries faster and more efficient. By the 1930s several other area dairy farmers merged into what became the Early Dawn Co-Operative Dairy and the whole operation was moved to a location in Waynesboro.

As a farm family, the Hartmans made hay and grew grain for their animals and had a large vegetable garden for fresh food, canning the rest for the winter months. Milford remembers the men known as hobos, who rode the trains during the Great Depression, coming to the house asking to do a bit of work in exchange for a meal.  

Early Dawn Dairy while in operation

The Hartman family believed in a strong work ethic and all the children had everyday chores, but the parents made sure there was plenty of time for play as well. Milford learned to swim in the South River, which ran to the rear of the farm, and rode his pony in the fields. He attended the elementary grades at Hall School, a Mennonite school near his home, and graduated from Stuarts Draft High School in 1936. 

He told me his first car was a 1934 Ford convertible and when I smiled and rolled my eyes, he laughed and said, “Yes, I was a big dog back then!” He also had a 1924 Model T truck. He loosened the muffler with a pipe wrench and remembers that “You could hear it coming a mile away. It sounded so good!”

He met his wife Ellen Coyner in high school and they dated several years before marrying on December 27, 1938.  The couple started out in a little house near the river on the family farm.  Their daughter, Barbara, was born in 1940 and their son, Roger, came in 1942.  

An Early Dawn glass milk bottle

In 1944 Milford was drafted into the military and became a ground crewman for an aircraft unit at a naval air station in Seattle, Washington.  From there he was shipped to Alaska and later to the Aleutian Islands. He served two years before coming home in January of 1946.

After he came home from the service, Milford worked in a textile plant in Emporia and later found work at the Celanese plant in Verona.  Closer to home, he worked at Wayne Manufacturing and finally retired from the General Electric plant in Waynesboro in 1981.

The Hartmans were married 74 years before Ellen passed away in 2014, and Milford said he misses her to this day. In addition to his two children, he has five grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and one great-great grandson, Jackson, in his immediate family.

I asked Milford what his secret to living such a long and fruitful life is and he was quick to reply: “I’ve always tried to live by The Golden Rule.” 

Milford’s extended family at his 100th birthday


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