"Centenarians are special individuals who have withstood the winds of time for a century or more. They are remarkable survivors that have seen enormous changes in their lifetimes. Transportation has changed from a horseback or buggies to automobiles, superhighways, and jumbo jets. Centenarians have lived through World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the current conflict in the Middle East. They have also lived through the Great Depression. Technology has produced televisions, microwaves, and computers. There have been eighteen presidents. They have witnessed (and some have participated in) the civil rights movement and the abolition of segregation. These are resilient individuals, are varied as any other group of people, but they all have a unique strength of spirit and tenaciousness that makes them survivors. These are the stories of some of the centenarians in Knox County, TN. They are truly treasures, every one of them. Join me in celebrating the centenarians of Knox County, our Tennessee Treasures."
-Bonnie Callen, RN, PhD
College of Nursing
Carrie Assmann was born and raised in a Mennonite community near Bluffton, Ohio. She had four sisters. Her father was Swiss and her mother German, so Carrie spoke Swiss-Dutch when she was growing up. Life on the farm was so simple and self-supplying that the depression did not have much of an impact on her.
Education was important to her father, so when Carrie finished high school she went to Ohio Northern University to study English literature. She went on to become a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in Bluffton. Two years later she moved to Columbus to become a nurse. After she graduated in 1931, she worked as a public health nurse in German Village, Ohio. One of her patients had a handsome son who came to visit his mother at the hospital. He and Carrie quickly hit it off and were married shortly afterwards. After the war, Carrie and her husband moved back into the first house that she owned. She lived there until she was 96 years old. Tragically, Carrie’s husband died in his forties, leaving Carrie with four daughters to care for. In order to support her family, Carrie went back to worked as a nurse, work from 1954 until she retired in 1971. Carrie moved to Tennessee when she was 98 years old.
Katie Blackwell was born on January 23. Her mother was Cherokee, and gave her the Biblical name “Vashti.” Later, Katie changed her name to Kathryn. The second of ten children, Katie’s family was so large that they were able to form a baseball team. Katie described them as, “the best team there was on the farm.” Katie and her siblings used to run through the woods on their way to school to see who could get there the fastest. They walked everywhere they went – church, ball games, and any other place they wanted to go to. Katie remembers her sister prohibiting Katie from going to the swimming hole because there were so many boys there. However, Katie decided to go anyway. When her sister caught her, she chased Katie through the cornfields with a switch. She never went to the swimming hole again.
At age 15, Katie married a young man that she met in the schoolyard. In 1924, Katie moved to Knoxville. She was a very hard worker, usually working at least two jobs. Katie learned to cook while working at the Highland Grill and later worked as a chef at the Whittlesprings Hotel. She walked to work everyday, leaving at four or five in the morning to get there on time. After a long day of cooking, Katie came home and started her to her second job – washing and ironing laundry. When she finished, her son would deliver the clean, freshly ironed clothes for a few cents per box.
Katie and her second husband, Ellis Blackwell loved to go to dances. Her husband usually just sat and watched, but Katie loved to join in the fun and dance the night away. She knew many different types of dances. Katie and Ellis had two children. Her daughter Eulah died at the age of 24, but Katie’s son is still alive, and cares for Katie with the help of his wife. Katie has always been self-sufficient and instilled the importance of hard work into her son. Katie is known for her generosity, sharing her cooking with those in need and looking after neighborhood children who lovingly called her “mama.”
Fred Chamberlain was born in Knox County in 1907. His father was a a carpenter who also hunted Tennessee Pearls. Fred was always following his father and learning from him. With those lessons and his God-given talents he became an accomplished jack of all trades who could do almost anything he set his mind to.
Fred and his five brothers were sharecroppers during the Depression. Fred remembers plowing the corn when he was about 10 years old. Fred left school after the 8th grade and was hired as a farm hand at one of the local farms. When he was 14 years old, He traded a colt that his father had given him to raise for a used Model T Ford.
Fred's first job was in a furniture factory in Oakwood. After about two years, he took a job washing dishes at Robert's Bakery and began learning the baking trade. He worked his way up the ladder moving to T.E. Burns Delicatessen and then to Swan's Bakery. While at Swan's he met his wife, Gladys. The couple moved to Florida where Fred worked in his brother's bakery. It was here that he became a master baker preparing specialty pastries, cookies, and three to four tier wedding cakes. While in Florida Fred's twin daughters, Linda and Brenda, were born.
In 1950, family responsibilities brought the Chamberlains back to Tennessee. Fred was hired by Charlie's Pie Shop and worked there until he was 65 years old. Upon retiring, Fred stayed busy attending church and working as the school safety patrol in the Ramsey community. As a baker Fred has worked every Sunday morning and he promised God that when he retired he would be in church every time the doors were open. He kept his promise, working as the church custodian until he was 90 years old.
Fred recalls that his father used to say, "I've not seen many changes in my lifetime, but you will see many in yours." Fred thinks that his dad was right saying that the world changed from ox cart days to sending men to the moon during his lifetime.
When Lockie Compton was born in 1907, her mother had the measles. “I was supposed to die,” she said, but “they poured cold water down me to get the measles to come out.” Lockie did live – for over 100 years! Her father was a tobacco farmer in Union County. He and his wife lived in the same three-room house their entire lives, The house never had electricity or an indoor commode. The whole family could not fit into the house, so they all never lived there together. Lockie’s brothers and sisters went to Knoxville as they got older to stay with relatives and go to school there.
Lockie walked three miles to school every day, but school was only in session for three months out of the year. When she was twelve, Lockie came down with tuberculosis of the bone and had to wear a cast for nearly a year. This meant that Lockie could not attend school that year.
When her uncle offered to pay her tuition to Knoxville Business School, Lockie jumped at the chance. A bookkeeper was born. She earned $15.00 a week, gave her uncle $10.00 to repay her tuition and kept the remaining $5.00 to live on. When Lockie was 35 year old, she had a daughter. However, she never stopped working. Lockie was in her eighties when she finally retired.
“Be good to everybody,” she says. Lockie’s secret to longevity? “I take all the hugs I can get!”
Evelyn was born in Rogersville, TN. She grew up with one brother and one sister. Her father raised cattle and farmed vegetables. Evelyn went to college in Bristol, where she studied Home Economics and Advertising. She dated a wonderful young man for over a year and half before marrying him. They were very poor when they wed, so they lived with Evelyn’s mother-in-law for 15 years.
Evelyn worked in a pottery store for over 32 years. During the depression she worked for about $10.00 a week. She remembers living “on potatoes, mostly.” Despite the massive quantities of potatoes that she consumed during this time, Evelyn still loves potatoes! Evelyn’s husband served in the Air Force and went to India during World War II. They built a house in Westmoreland where they lived for 72 years. Her husband passed away when he was 92 years old.
Evelyn loves flowers, and spending time in the garden. She explained that she “grew up growing things.” Four strokes have slowed her gardening, but she still cares for her beloved flowers as much as she is able. Evelyn believes that her longevity is closely related to her faith and frequently quotes the Serenity Prayer “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I cannot and wisdom to know the difference.” She sums things up by saying “I’ve had a good, wonderful life.”
Hester Freeman 1907 - 2009
Hester Freeman was born on May 10th of 1907 in Concord, TN. Her parents, Joseph Wilson Freeman and Sarah Katherine Christian brought up their five daughters and one son on their farm. Hester remembers playing ball, marbles, making candy, and cutting out paper dolls from old magazines as a child. She also enjoyed waiting for the train to bring ice on Saturday afternoons. In later years the iceman would come in the morning with the ice in a sack for the icebox. The melting ice meant emptying the drain pan emptied regularly.
Hester’s family traveled by horse drawn buggy. When Hester was 11 years old, her mother, an accomplished seamstress, died. She moved to Knoxville When she reached high school, leaving the farm for Knoxville to continue her education The farm was later flooded by TVA. After attending the University of Tennessee, Hester taught at Farragut Grammar School, Fountain City Grammar School, Powell High School, Carter High School, Central High Schol, and Bearden High School before retiring in 1973. She primarily taught U.S. history, English, and Spanish. Hester remembers that her salary during the depression was sixty dollars a month. Transportation to and from work cost her about five dollars.
Hester lived with her sister who also was a teacher. Together they built a house where they lived for years, joined later by another sister whose husband had passed away unexpectedly. Hester is a member of Bearden Central Baptist and numerous organizations. She is now the only one of her family left, having no nieces or nephews. At 100, she still lives in her own home.
Grace Glass was born in Knoxville, TN in 1905. It has been her home now for over 103 years. Grace and her brother were very close when they were growing up. They often played in their neighbor’s yard because it was bigger than their own back yard. One of Grace’s special memories from childhood was when she rode in the same parade with Booker T. Washington. She was about ten years old and vividly remembers the horse drawn carriages.
As a small child, Grace's parents paid for her music lessons. At age 16, she began playing the pipe organ at her Logan temple AME Zion Church. She remained the organist there for the next 40 years.
Grace always wanted to be a teacher. When she was growing up, she practiced on her brother. After more formal education at Knoxville College, Grace began a career of teaching. For 40 years she taught school, mostly 6th grade. “I love kids,” she said with a warm smile.
She was born near Middlebrook Pike and continues to reside in that area 104 years later. Like many in her childhood days, Pauline was raised on a farm. Her father also worked for the railroad. Her father unexpectedly died at a young age in a tragic railroad accident, leaving her mother with four children and a farm to take care for. At 8 years of age, in order to help her mother, Pauline began driving the mule and wagon in the fields while her mother picked up the corn.
Pauline remembers one summer in particular when she went to visit her aunt. She was initially excited to help her aunt during harvest season because she would be picking cabbage vines (something she had not done before). By the end of the summer, however, Pauline was exhausted and realized she no longer thought picking cabbage vines was a great job. Even though this summer was filled with hard work, it wasn’t a total loss because Pauline was able to go on her first car ride with her aunt’s neighbor.
Pauline was married in 1925 at 20 years of age. She and her husband met in a unique way. Pauline’s mother often sent Pauline to get 25 pounds of ice for the family ice box. They would tie a string around the ice and Pauline would carry it home. Pauline’s future husband worked at the ice shop where she would frequently visit. Pauline remembers that the 25 pound block of ice only weighed about 5 pounds by the time she returned home (because she stopped places along the way home).
It is amazing Pauline not only finished high school but also went to Business College, where she learned short hand. Her first job was at a grocery Mill making $6 per week. After she retired, she went to work for Baptist hospital and started the “Pink Ladies” (a group of volunteers). She was also sent to several area hospitals to start this volunteer program. Pauline has always been a hard worker, but has maintained a good sense of humor and an unmistakable wit.
Miss Jane Hendrix is 102 years old and was born on February 24, 1908 in Columbus, Ohio. She loves working on puzzles and playing cards. Her room is decorated with beautiful needle point artworks that she has sewn herself. Miss Hendrix grew up in Columbus and loved spending time playing with her two sisters. She loved it so much that her mother had to beg her to go play with the other girls in the neighborhood too. Her father was an electrical engineer and she describes her mother with a lot of affection.
She graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in Home Ed. and moved to Knoxville for her first job at a cafeteria. That is where she met her husband –he was at the cafeteria line getting food and Ms. Hendrix thought he was cute! And after working a year, she got married to the man she had met in the cafeteria at the age of 23. Since her move to Knoxville, she has made it her home and has lived here ever since.
She was the busy mother of six wonderful children, including a set of twins. Her son, John, is the only one living in Knoxville, and she describes him as a wonderful man. To celebrate her 90th birthday, they gave her a big party and when she turned 100, Miss Jane says “they made it even bigger”.
When her husband passed away in 1970, Miss Hendrix answered a newspaper advertisement looking for people with a mastectomy, since she had had two. She joined the Reach to Recovery Program, which is sponsored by the American Cancer Society and helps people with newly diagnosed breast cancer by matching them with volunteers, like Jane, who have previously gone through the same experience.
Miss Hendrix attributes her healthy longevity to good nutrition. She says, “I learned how to eat, what’s good for you, and I don’t eat fried foods if I can keep from it. No hamburgers.” Apart from all the other things she excels at, Jane is good at solving math problems. So if we want to have a long healthy life, nutrition is an important aspect, and we might even be as good as her in math!
Ethel Julian has been a life-long East Tennessean. She was born on April 27, 1910 in Sevier County and was the daughter of a corn farmer. She enjoyed her childhood, especially growing up on a farm. One of her most fond childhood memories was picking up ears of corn that had fallen off of the wagon.
Ethel was raised to have a strong work ethic. At 13 years old, she got her first job running a buttonhole machine at a factory on Gay Street in Knoxville. She later worked in the packing department at the Appalachian Mill (also based in Knoxville).
Ethel was married in 1926 at the age of 16 to Morris Julian. The couple had a wonderful and long-lasting marriage, which produced two boys and one girl. The couple was married for over 69 years until her husband’s death at 90 years old.
Although she doesn’t cook anymore, Ethel enjoyed cooking every Sunday for her family throughout the years, which became a Julian family tradition. She proved to be an excellent pie maker, making many of her pies from scratch without following a recipe.
Ethel has maintained her natural beauty and attributes this to having never smoked cigarettes or drank alcohol.
Gladys Keith began her life on a farm in Laurel Creek, TN. She was the fifth of eleven children. The family left Monroe County when Gladys was seven and moved to Knoxville, TN. When she was fifteen years old Gladys began the first of many jobs she has held in her lifetime. The first job was working in the packing and shipping department of the Appalachian Mercantile Company in 1923. In the 40's Gladys became the owner and general manager of a wholesale manufacturing firm. While she was there Gladys received two government contracts for the Atomic City of Oak Ridge.
Meanwhile, Gladys married in 1927 and became the mother of her daughter, Mary Lou. In 1938, she married her second husband, James Earl Keith.
Ready for an occupational change, Gladys studied real estate and passed the licensure exam in 1951. In 1953, she completed a course in credit and collections at Knoxville’s Business Training Center. She became a broker in 1955. Gladys moved to Florida in 1968 where she became certified in data processing. In 1974, Gladys received a diploma in hotel and motel management.
One of Gladys’ lifelong loves is poetry. She has written lyrics to songs including one of her favorites, “Love Divine.” Gladys still lives independently at age 101, getting around with the help of a walker. She still gets out of the house to have her hair done and to go to church. She attributes her longevity to her faith.
Lois Kelly’s father died when she was very young leaving her mother to raise three children on her own. Her mother worked as a domestic for a Knoxville family. As a child, Lois used to help her mother. Lois got her first paid job when she was eleven or twelve -- helping her mother wash dishes.
Lois attended Green School, which later became Knoxville Colored High School. At that time, there were eleven grades in this high school. When she completed high school, her mother continued working so that Lois could go on to college. Wanting to go away for school, Lois chose Tennessee State University in Nashville, TN. She graduated in 1931 and began her career as a teacher. For over 40 years Lois taught school, mostly third grade. She retired from Lonsdale in 1971.
In 1940 Lois got married. She has fond memories of their first car -- a lightweight Chevrolet. She remembered that the car shook the whole way to Mississippi and back when they drove it to visit her husband’s family. After that trip they decided that that was the last lightweight car that they would ever own. After retiring from teaching in 1971, Lois worked at her husband’s dental practice for over twenty years.
When asked why she believes that she has lived so long Lois replied, “The Lord has seen me through the years.” She also explained that treating people with respect and helping others as much as possible were her other secrets to longevity.
Nancy Kelly grew up on a farm in Grainger County, TN. Her father was a farmer, and raised a little of everything. As one of ten children, her house was quite full, but no one ever went hungry. As a small girl Nancy remembers wanting to help her mother with everything. She even used to beg to wring the neck of the chicken destined for the dinner table. Unfortunately, when given the chance, the chicken squirmed out of Nancy’s hands and ran away. While she may have saved the life of the chicken, there was no fried chicken for dinner that night.
After the 8th grade Nancy quit school and went to work at the Brookside Cotton Mill in Knoxville, TN. Later, she married a fellow Grainger County resident. She remembers her husband buying a brand new car. However, it didn’t stay in mint condition for long. She explained that her husband was “acting the fool and tore the car up” very soon after purchasing it. It took a lot of repairs to get the car back into shape.
Nancy’s first husband died at the age of 34 from typhoid fever, This left her with three children to care for. Nancy moved back to Knoxville to work and her children lived with their grandparents. In 1937, Nancy married a second time. This husband lived to be 91 years old. At age 72, Nancy married for a third time. This marriage lasted 20 years. Nancy believes she was very blessed to have three good husbands.
Georgiana Kemp 1909 -2009
Georgiana Kemp was born in Greentown, Indiana. She stayed in Indiana for the majority of her life with the exception of the four years that she spent in San Antonio, Texas during World War II. When growing up, one of her favorite memories was going to her grandparent’s house to gather violets. Georgiana always loved flowers and still does. After high school Georgiana moved to Anderson to work for the Guide Lamp Division of General Motors. It was there that she met the young man that would become her husband. Except for his stint in the army, he worked at General Motors his entire career.
Carrie Edith McBee Kincer
Edith Kincer was born on May 11, 1909, on the farm belonging to her grandparents, James Sterling and Mary Codelia Shipe Byerly, on the Holston River in Grainger County, Tn. Her mother having gone home for the birth, as was the custom at that time. Her parents, Robert Love and Margaret Ella Byerly McBee, made their home at Corryton, Tn. It is now the site of the Oaks Lilly Farm. The house is still there.
She is a 6th generation Tennesseeian, descending from William McBee, Jr. who was run out of the territory by the Indians twice before settling on land along the Holston River just east of Knoxville. She had 3 half brothers, 1 half sister, 4 sisters and a brother. They would walk to school each day, and she graduated from Gibbs High School. During WW2 she worked at Fulton's as a shell inspector.
On October 20th, 1943 she married Carl Brown Kincer, at the Roane County Court House in Kingston, Tn. An elopement, even though they were 38 and 34. Just didn't want a big wedding. Carl was a dairy farmer and they lived on Northshore Drive where Eagle Glen is now. Working alongside his parents, Michael and Dora Fry Kincer, buying the home place after they passed away. She has 2 children Argyl B Kincer and Rebecca Kincer Goin. Edith was a great cook , feeding not only her family, but all the hired hands. She gardened and helped with the dairy. They built a new house, and moved to their other farm off Turkey Creek Road, in 1960.
Edith loves flowers and she filled the flower beds, yard and woods with beautiful plants. She also loved needle work, cross stitch, cut work, and later yoyo's made into bed spreads. Edith became a Member of Concord (United) Methodist Church in 1944 where she is now the oldest member. She now lives at Little Creek and loves it.
Evelyn Marie Kirby, who will turn 103 years old this December, was born in Johnson City, Tennessee in 1907. She moved with her family to Knoxville in 1911, where she lives to this day. She grew up with both her father and mother and an older sister. Her father was the manager of a Coca-Cola factory in Knoxville and her mother stayed at home to raise her and her sister.
Although she was born in a small East Tennessee town, she considers herself a “city girl,” since she has lived nearly her entire life in or very close to Knoxville. In 1914, she and her family moved to Fountain City (just north of Knoxville). She has lived in Fountain City since then and has been a member of the Fountain City United Methodist Church for many years.
Evelyn has many great memories of growing up in Fountain City. One of her most memorable childhood experiences was celebrating the July 4th holiday. She recalled standing on a fencepost at her family’s house so that she could watch the disabled veterans (being cared for at a nearby veterans’ home) celebrating this holiday. She remembers fireworks shows and hot air balloon rides for $1 every Independence Day. These things were very unusual in those days, especially hot air balloons, which were new at the time. Like many children of her day, Evelyn walked nearly everywhere as a child, although her family owned a horse and buggy.
Evelyn was married to Buddy Kirby on June 12, 1929 at 22 years old (around the time the Great Depression began). The couple did not have any children, but always had pets which they loved. Her husband was a barber and enjoyed hunting (and even had hunting dogs).
Evelyn contributes her long life to never drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes. She “just did what any sensible person would do.”
Marie Layman was born on August 14th of 1904 in St. Clair Country, Alabama. Both of her grandfathers were confederate veterans. She attended Jacksonville State Teachers College in Jacksonville, AL. Then she worked in the census office in Washington D.C. during the 1920s. Marie later moved to Knoxville to attend the Business College. It was in Knoxville that she met a young lawyer named Earl Layman. The couple was married on February 17th of 1929 in Chattanooga, TN. Following her marriage, Marie worked as a substitute teacher in the Knox County school district, mainly at Chilhowee and Robert Huff Elementary schools. Her husband became a General Sessions Court Judge, serving for ten years. The couple had two sons, Earl and Richard Neil (Dick). Earl became an attorney like his father, and Dick became a chemical engineer.
Marie has seven grandchildren and 18 great grandchildren. During the depression anyone in need that knocked on Marie's door found work or food. Her sons remember coming home to their house on Burnes Street and frequently finding someone eating a plate of food on the front porch. Having won the right to vote as a young woman, Marie considered it a privilege. She was active in the Republican Party her entire life. Until illness curtailed her ability to attend, Marie was active at Bell Avenue (now Chilhowee Hills Baptist) Church. She taught Sunday school and other activities for the congregation. Marie is also a huge Vols fan. Her eldest son's middle name is Robert in honor of her favorite player, Bobby Dodd.
Jessie Love was born on a farm in Union County. Her family grew everything that the family needed. As a child, Jessie helped as much as she was able. She says that she was “good at the hoe.” She also helped her mother churn butter. After completing school, Jessie moved to Knoxville and worked at the Knoxville Knitting Mill.
Jessie and her friends used to get together to play the piano and dance. It was at one of these gatherings that she met her future husband. Every weekend the couple would travel back to Union County for a big family dinner on the farm. The TVA later flooded Jessie’s family farm. After they married, Jessie and her husband had two children. She remembers that it was tough during the depression. Her husband lost his job and they had to live with his parents. They made it through this hard time and her husband found work with the railroad.
When asked why she thinks she has lived so long, Jessie said “I’ve never given it a thought.”
Lottie Robinson was born April 18, 1910 in Greenville, TN. After her father’s unexpected and premature death, her mother moved her older sister and her to Knoxville. Lottie’s mother would later remarry. Lottie grew up on a farm a few miles outside Knoxville, often taking care of chickens, cows, hogs, and mules. Her family also grew vegetables and sugar cane. Lottie recalled taking weekly trips with her stepfather to the outskirts of Knoxville to peddle their vegetables. Interestingly, they sold quarts of strawberries for two cents per quart. In those days, a profit of $2 to$ 2.50 in one day was a “good day.”
Lottie met her future husband, Bill Robinson, after taking a bus ride to Morristown, TN to visit her cousin and her best friend. The couple was engaged 18 months later. Lottie and Bill bought the lot for their first home for $60 in 1937. Early in their marriage, Bill was in the U.S. Navy, which led to the couple moving frequently. Lottie enjoyed living in different places around the United States, including Rhode Island and California and made many friends all over the country. Bill and Lottie gave birth to their son in 1947. She now has 3 grandchildren and 2 great- grandchildren.
Lottie has always been an avid cook and enjoys baking casseroles and desserts. She has over 750 recipes to date. She is well known for her coconut crème and lemon meringue pies. A resilient and resourceful woman, she lived at home by herself until she was 94 years of age. She drove her 1976 Chevrolet Nova until she was 93.
She is a long time member of Belmont Heights Baptist church and celebrated her 100th birthday with long time friends and family. Besides living a clean life and never smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol, Lottie
Attributesher long life to her strong Christian faith.
Evelyn Shafer was born in Atlanta, Georgia on November 24th of 1906. Her father owned a hardware store. Evelyn has many very happy childhood memories. She and the neighborhood children used to played hopscotch and shoot marbles. Everyone in Edith’s family played some type of musical instrument. On Saturdays after lunch, the family gathered to play music together. Evelyn's father and brother played the violin, and another brother played cornet. According to Edith, they were “a congenial, happy family.”
When Evelyn was 12 years old her family moved to Alabama so that her fathvely n could work in the family foundry. Following high school, Evelyn went to Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she was Mayday queen. After teaching for a short while, Evelyn continued her schooling an obtained an advanced degree from the University of Tennessee in Home Economics and Child Development. It was at the University of Tennessee that Evelyn met a handsome young man from West Virginia. They dated for a while and were married in 1936. Evelyn taught Child Psychology and Freshman Psychology classes at the University of Tennessee while her family grew. Two more children followed a set of twins.
Although she continued to work after her twins were born, Evelyn made sure that her family remained close. Dinner was always served at 6:30, and everyone was expected to be there.
Today, Edith enjoys visits from the four generations of family members who still live in Knoxville. Edith believes that one secret to longevity is friends. She has always been a "people person," and has cultivated a wide circle of friends throughout her life. Her advice to others is to “keep making younger friends.”
Helen Sharp was born on February 28th of 1904. Going to the University of Tennessee was a tradition in Helen Sharp’s family. Her father went to UT, and she followed in his footsteps. Helen’s daughter is also a graduate of the University of Tennessee.
Helen grew up with a love of history. From this love came her career -- teaching high school history. She also had another love, music. At an early age Helen developed a love for the piano. To encourage this, Helen’s father put her on a train to Knoxville every Saturday for piano lessons. After she left home, Helen played the piano to accompany a few silent films. Another musician, who played the violin, sat on the bench with Helen and turned the pages in her music book. The result was yet another love, and she married her piano seatmate. Helen’s husband became an electrical engineer and the family grew to four when they had two children.
Beulah Sinclair was born in Knoxville, TN on December 16th of 1909. Her father was the director of the Black Unit of the John Tarleton Institute. Her mother was the matron for the boys that lived there. Her lifetime nickname of “Ted” came from a promise her parents made to her older sister. “You are going to have a teddy bear,” they told her. So when Beulah was born she was called “Teddy” or “Ted.” The nickname stuck.
Beulah believes that she had “a wonderful childhood.” One of her favorite memories was riding the trolleys in downtown Knoxville. She remembered that sometimes the wires came off of the wheels and the trolley conductor had to get off and put the wires back on. After high school, Beulah went to Knoxville College and majored in Sociology. She did her postgraduate work at the University of Tennessee and Atlanta University. Upon obtaining her degree, Beulah began teaching grade school. She loved the first grade, and taught at this level for 25 years.
“Teddy” is especially proud of two honors that she received in her life. She is a charter member of her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, so the first honor occurred when her sorority named a scholarship after her. The second honor was when the Black Men of America named her as an Outstanding Teacher and Community Member last year.
“Good clean living, no smoking, drinking, eating well and exercising” are Beulah’s recommendations for longevity.
Mary Siske was born in Chile. She was the oldest of eleven children. Her father was a carpenter, and her mother stayed home to care for their family. While she was still young, her father went to Alaska to find work. After a little while, his family came to Alaska to join him. In Alaska, Mary met a man from Tennessee and married him. She had a great deal to learn about American ways of life. One of Mary’s favorite memories involves cooking her first American Thanksgiving dinner. When the huge turkey was done, she proudly set it on the platter to serve with the legs sticking straight up in the air. Her family laughed, and her husband, James, helped her turn it over with the legs down for the traditional American presentation. Mary and her husband had three children before moving to Tennessee where Mary’s in-laws welcomed her as one of the family. She has been in Tennessee ever since.
Mary says her secret to longevity is to “eat right, not smoke or drink, and love each other.”
Eula Sumter was born in 1909 in Campbell County, Tennessee. One of five siblings, she grew up on a farm and ate “whatever they grew in it.” As a child, she worked hard on the farm and loved playing with boys more than girls. She remembers walking to school, but if it rained, her father would drive her in a wagon. She remembers Christmas with fondness. She loved the trimmings, and gave presents to her teachers, friends and family members. Growing up, she said she minded well and does not remember getting into trouble.
After completing one year of high school, she moved to Knoxville to live with her older sister, and worked as an inspector in a men’s clothing store. Since she did not drive, she took the street car to work every day –the fare was only six cents at the time.
She met her husband, Chester, at a party and they went on to have a daughter and a son. Currently, she has five grandchildren, eight great grandchildren and one great-great grandson. She loved baking pies and cakes. Her favorite is butterscotch pie. She also enjoys the reputations of being a good cook among her friends and family.
She says that the secret to her long and healthy life is that she lived a “common” life, and advises us not to worry about anything.
Teodorica Taal was born on July 1st of 1909 in Manila, Philippines. She was one of five children. After completing college in 1937, she married a schoolmate and had seven children. When some of her children came to the United States, Teodorica and her husband followed and settled in Knoxville.
Both Teodorica and her husband worked in accounting. At age 100, Mrs. Taal still keeps extensive lists of everything about her grandchildren -- their birthdays, their heights and weights, lists of her friends, etc. At Christmas she sends out over one hundred cards, including many to the Philippines. Christmas is a special holiday for Mrs. Taal. In the Philippine tradition, families visit each other, so all day long relatives come to visit Teodorica. Following tradition, she gives each person a small gift of money. Lots of food is served, and the family eats from morning until night.
Teodorica is a very generous person. Her family said that she is a great role model. Teodorica says that she has lived one hundred years "because I eat on time and don't worry. I am always happy."
Elizabeth Turner was born in Jacksonville, Alabama. When she was a small child her family moved to Rome, Georgia, where she grew up. “We had a good family life,” she remembers fondly. “We always ate together.” In high school she met her future husband, but it was a long time before they married. Elizabeth was the captain of her basketball team in high school. After graduating high school Elizabeth completed a year and a half of college and business courses.
Elizabeth came to Knoxville when her husband”s work transferred him. She still lives in the house that she and her husband bought in 1942. She was working at Sears when she became pregnant, which in those days meant that she had to quit. Elizabeth ended up raising three children, making clothes for herself and everyone in her family on a pedal Singer sewing machine. Mrs. Turner still attends Central Baptist Church in Bearden twice a week for Sunday school, church, and Wednesday night suppers. She still lives independently at 100 years of age.