Mayor’s proclamation honors 100th birthday of Willie Shelton

Mayor Allen Joines presents a proclamation to Willie Shelton in honor of her 100th birthday.

Mayor’s proclamation honors 100th birthday of Willie Shelton
September 07
10:19 2023

By Judie Holcomb-Pack

The meeting room at Rupert Bell Recreation Center was all decked out in blue and white and family and friends filled the seats as they came together to celebrate the 100th birthday of Willie Shelton. Mayor Allen Joines stopped by to present Mrs. Shelton with a proclamation naming Willie Shelton Day and they spent a few minutes reminiscing about a restaurant she once ran downtown, Willow’s. Along with the mayor’s proclamation was a framed card from the White House with birthday wishes signed by President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden.

Mrs. Shelton was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, but moved to Winston-Salem with her parents when she was about 12 years old. She attended the 14th Street School and was promoted to Atkins, but was unable to complete her education because she had to quit school to take care of her mother.

In the early years Mrs. Shelton’s house was the gathering place for friends and neighbors. Family members recalled that there was a lack of stores in the area so Mrs. Shelton’s house was known as a “candy house,” a place that sold candy and snacks to the neighborhood kids.  The downstairs was like a night club where you could buy hot dogs and hamburgers and dance. She also operated Willow’s Lounge, Willow’s Supper Club and Willow’s Soul Food downtown restaurant. 

“Everybody loved my cooking,” Mrs. Shelton said, especially her “chocolate pound cake, greens and pinto beans cooked with ham hocks.” The restaurant closed after her husband, Harry Shelton, died. 

Mrs. Shelton said she doesn’t like to think about the past but likes to think about only the good things. A favorite memory is from middle school. “My daddy and I would eat lunch behind the school … mama would make sweet potatoes and fried fat back with biscuits.” 

Mrs. Shelton raised six children, one daughter and five sons. She lives with her son and daughter-in-law in the house she owned years ago, but was damaged in a fire. She thought she had lost two of her children in the fire, but they escaped. She could never forget the terror of that fire and sold the house because of the memories. Years later she would pass the house and realized she missed it, so she bought it back and lives there now.

Looking out at the family and friends gathered to honor her, Mrs. Shelton said, “I thank God to be sitting in this chair. … I often think of things God has put me through and brought me to (my church) 7th Day Adventist.” She continued, “I’d like to open a house for homeless people … I must still be here because God has something for me to do.”

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