City celebrates birthday with other 100-year-olds
More than 40 of the city’s oldest residents were feted Friday afternoon during the City of Winston-Salem’s Centenarian Luncheon at Benton Convention Center.
The luncheon, which was open to Winston-Salem residents who are or will be 100-years-old or older in 2013, was staged as part of the city’s four-daylong Centennial Celebration.
Some of those in attendance Friday predated the merging of Winston and Salem on May 9, 1913.
Former art teacher Alma Keen was a toddler when the merger took place. Keen, 102, was born in the area; she isn’t sure which town her family lived in prior to the merger, but says she is proud to be a part of the city they have become together.
“I really and truly am thankful,” remarked Keen, one of the oldest living graduates of Winston-Salem Teachers’ College, now Winston-Salem State University. “I am a child of my city.”
Keen went on to become a history-maker for the blended city, as the first-ever female chair of the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem’s Board of Directors.
“I feel honored to be here today. I really feel honored that someone has thought the good things I have done are worthwhile to be remembered,” said Keen, who taught school for four decades, spending the bulk of her career at Paisley Junior High. “That makes me feel good; you want to feel that what you have done is worthwhile.”
Though some folks don’t like to reveal age, Keen says she wears her seniority on the planet like a badge of honor.
“I was never ashamed of the age that I am,” she declared. “I am just happy that God has allowed me to live this long and still be in good health.”
Mayor Pro Tempore Vivian Burke praised all those in attendance for the contributions they have made to the city over the course of its first 100 years.
“We’re so blessed to be able to celebrate this occasion. We are blessed because we have people who have worked hard, and we are on their shoulders,” Burke remarked. “We have so many folks who have worked hard, and I don’t believe that we give them their due credit when they get older… the history that they have in their heads is too great to miss.”
Each centenarian was presented with a framed proclamation made by Mayor Allen Joines and a copy of a letter from President Barack Obama congratulating the city on its centennial.
“The city is built on the strong fiber and commitment of its residents,” Joines said, reading the proclamation. “The mayor and City Council recognize the value and longevity of our centenarians.”
Burke recognized the oldest honoree in attendance, 109 year-old Sina Hayes, a former employee of Hanes Knitting Company.
“This is history and we want to capture the history,” Burke said.
Luncheon attendees took in performances by the Ole Dixie Dogs and the Snappy Tappers, a tap dancing group for seniors age 55 and up. Mike Wells Sr., a senior partner of Wells Jenkins Lewis and Jenkins and president of the North Carolina Bar Association, delivered the keynote address.
South Carolina native Rosa Rice, 103, said she was thrilled to be in the number Friday.
“It’s exciting,” declared the mother of three, who attended the luncheon with her daughter and two granddaughters. “I’ve never been to anything like this before.”
Rice, a great-great grandmother and member of Shiloh Baptist Church for 77 years, attributes her longevity to the grace of God, a divine reward for a life well lived.
“Put your trust in the Lord,” advised Rice, who has been retired for more than 40 years. “I lean on Him because He’s the one that brought me this far.”
The luncheon was a learning experience for Centennial volunteers Asheley Cooper and Lisa Gaston, who are slated to be awarded their bachelors degrees in gerontology (the scientific study of old age) during WSSU Commencement exercises this weekend.
“Seeing how much knowledge and history was in one room – that was just amazing to me,” related Cooper, who is headed to graduate school at the University of Maryland at Baltimore. “It takes a lot to live that long. It’s not something you just do; you have to work at it.”
Gaston, a Charlotte native, said she had never met a centenarian before the last week. The aspiring gerontological nurse said she was inspired by the honorees she met at the luncheon.
“You always hear about the bad side of aging,” said Gaston, WSSU’s Miss Gerontology 2012-13. “You never hear about the good side of aging, and this is really a demonstration of that.”