Farm girl, college student, business owner, great-grandmother


Shortly after I moved to Marysville in 1969 I learned my way around town and was told Moder’s Sohio Gas Station, located at the corner of Maple and Fifth streets where Dave’s Pharmacy is today, was where we would buy our gasoline. In fact it was the favorite spot for many people on the west side of town. Everyone knew Paul and Zema Moder, who together ran that full-service gas station (in the later years as an independent dealer) from 1962 to 1987, at which time they retired.
After being married to Zema for 68 years, Paul passed away in 2015, but I recently spent time with her. She is now 92, and has a keen memory and many interesting stories of her life in Union County.
Born in 1926, Zema grew up on a farm outside of Raymond. She was much more interested in outside activities than inside with her mom. Realizing this, her dad put her to work at an early age hauling milk cans to the barn, spreading straw for the cattle and washing the cows’ udders before milking on their 280-acre farm. She is a self-described tomboy who has always loved sports.
One day when she was only five years old, she had been allowed to ride in the fields on a platform behind the grain drill that was pulled by a team of horses and driven by a hired hand. While sitting there she stuck her finger in the cogs of the machinery and it cut off the first finger on her right hand, about halfway down. Well, actually, it wasn’t quite all the way off, but when the doctor was called and saw the situation (it was 1931 and no chance of reattaching it), he insisted that the rest of the finger be removed, thus changing her life a bit.
She remembers that it throbbed a lot for many months afterward, but she later learned to play the piano and use a typewriter, and adjusted well to her situation.
When she was in the third grade another change became necessary – a name change of sorts. When Zema was born, her name was spelled Xema on her birth certificate and the kids in her class were calling her eczema. At nine years old, she’d had enough and all by herself changed the spelling to Zema even though her birth certificate still had the original spelling.
As a young teenager she was given the gift of a pony named Dopey. That might have been a good name because he wasn’t all that friendly. She was not allowed to have a saddle and only a feed sack was available to put on the pony’s back. He would reach around and try to bite her while she was riding. That would have been the end of it for me.
During her high school years at Liberty Rural High School in Raymond, she met a young man named Paul Moder. They dated until his graduation in 1943. She graduated in 1944 and there were 18 people in her graduating class.
The world was at war and shortly after his graduation, Paul joined the Navy. Zema worked at OM Scotts Seed Co. for the summer before entering Ohio State University to major in home economics. There she also played basketball for a team called the Dinettes.
After that first year of college, her summer job was in Marion at The Scioto Ordinance Plant (a bomb-producing facility). She didn’t have a car so she had to share a room in a private home in Marion with a high school girlfriend. Zema remembers that her father being strict had checked out that family.
It was near the end of World War II, but bombs were still being made and since she was a college student she didn’t have to work on the assembly line. Her job was to keep track of the downtime for the line. This seems like a curious thing to me. She kept track of how many minutes the women on the line were standing idle. For those minutes they got paid more. What?
Apparently it was important to produce as many bombs as possible as quickly as possible, so if there was some downtime in between bomb production for whatever reason, the pay was more.
Also working in the plant were German prisoners of war. One was the nephew of Nazi leader Rudolf Hess. The POW group, which included SS members, called it camp Marion. The bomb factory closed Aug. 15, 1945, and most of the POWs were transferred to France to work in coal mines.
Next week, part II – Zema begins a lifelong partnership.
(Melanie Behrens –

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