98-year-old Kansas man two-stepping through time

Monday, February 6, 2006

MINNEAPOLIS, Kan. -- Three to four times a week, 98-year-old Clyde Sample puts on his best suit, adjusts his string tie and polishes his black shoes. Then it's off to polka, ballroom and country dances across the state.

The retired Minneapolis farmer said he doesn't mind being the oldest dancer on the floor.

"A guy was bragging about his age at this one dance, but he was only 96 and in a wheelchair," Sample said. "I may be 98, but I'm still on my feet."

Sample learned to dance 88 years ago -- and insists he's a long way from hanging up his dancing shoes. He lives in Minneapolis with his daughter, Joan Littlefield, 68, who often drives him to dances, and is regularly accompanied by a friend, Minneapolis resident Evelyn Doering, who is 20 years younger.

"I tell him he's robbing the cradle," Littlefield said with a laugh. "But then he's got to go younger. How many 98-year-old women can he get?"

Sample has been a regular at Salina's Jolly Mixers' dances for more than 50 years.

At a recent event, Sample swayed under sparkling white lights with more than 100 other couples to the western music of the band Marlboro Country.

Sample is game for a country two-step or waltz, but his favorite dance is the polka.

"There are enough bands in this area who know me well, and they'll usually dedicate the 'Pennsylvania Polka' to me, which is my favorite," he said.

Doering describes Sample as good dancer, though his steps have slowed a bit.

"He knows how to lead, and he'll stop you if you're about to run into somebody," she said

Doering wasn't the only woman at the Jolly Mixers' dance smitten with Sample's happy feet.

"If you can do what he does at his age, you're something else," said Louise Frey, 74, of Abilene. "He's in great shape physically and mentally. He's an inspiration for all of us."

Born April 3, 1907, Sample grew up on an 80-acre farm west of Minneapolis. An only child, he lived and farmed on that land for 86 years.

"I graduated from the eighth grade at 16 and never went to high school," he said. "I started working on the farm full time and took it over when my dad died in 1933."

In those days, there were limited resources for entertainment, so local barn dances were popular social outlets. By age 10, Sample was adept at square dancing, waltzes and the two-step.

In 1932, Sample married a local girl, Avis Bremerman, and they had a daughter, Joan, in 1937. Sample said he didn't dance much after he got married and took over the farm.

"I was working too hard to have much fun," he said. "When I started, I had to plow with a team of three horses, and that took time."

Joan grew up an only child, became a nurse, got married and moved to Denver, where she lived for 45 years. In 1993 Sample, now widowed and no longer able to farm full time, moved into an assisted-living facility in Minneapolis. In 2002, Littlefield, now divorced and retired, moved back to Minneapolis, bought a house and brought her father to live with her.

By that time, Sample had returned to dancing and was going several times a week to dances in Salina, Hays, Russell, Concordia, Hill City, Holyrood, Great Bend and Wichita.

"I missed dancing a lot," he said. "You got to have fun, socialize, and move to the music with your arm around a woman. Who wouldn't like that?"

Until a few years ago, Sample drove to all the dance events himself. Now Littlefield does most of the driving, which she doesn't mind.

"I do a lot of dancing myself," she said. "As a nurse, I've seen too many older people sit around and do nothing, so I encourage people to go dancing whenever they can. It's good exercise -- my dad is proof of it. No one can believe he's 98. Most people think he's in his 60s or 70s."

Sample danced about every fifth song during the three-hour Jolly Mixers' event and then took a break. Whenever he sat at one of the nearby tables, he was surrounded by longtime friends, most who have known him for decades at dances around Kansas.

"We're old, old friends," said Salinan Florine Ayre. "I dance with him every time he comes here. He's not as fast as he used to be, but he still knows how to move."

Leon Hahn, president of the Jolly Mixers', said a lot of senior citizens who come to the dance look up to Sample.

"They admire Clyde because he dances every week and has been doing it such a long time," Hahn said. "Whenever he misses a week, he thinks it's terrible, and everyone worries about where he is. Things aren't the same here if he's not around."

On April 3, Sample will turn 99. He plans to keep on dancing to 100 and beyond, as long as his health is good.

"I never drank or smoked, so whether that contributed to my longevity, I don't know," Sample said. "I just know that dancing keeps me going, and as long as I can keep a woman to dance with, I'll keep on going."

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