Pictured below are the residents honored from left to right, Charlie Mae Lewis, 104, Hazel Burleigh, 103, Nellie Cooper, 102, Dottie Keesee, 101, Dora Hubbard, 100 and Sue Aylor, 100. Lori Motley, left, listens as Mrs. Aylor’s son says a few words of tribute to his mother.
The secrets to a long life: Be nice, work hard, live well and never give up.
This was the advice six women, all 100 years or older, gave to a crowd of at least 80 at Valley View Retirement Community on Friday afternoon as they were recognized by the facility and honored for living long and well. Family members, caregivers and friends filled the front part of the dining hall as the women, mostly dressed in shades of pink and seated at long tables in the front of the room, smiled and waved.
“I think it’s amazing that some of us can live for so long and still tell such wonderful stories and be so happy,” said Lori Motley, activity coordinator at Valley View.
The six women recognized were Charlie Mae Lewis, 104; Hazel Burleigh, 103; Nellie Cooper, 102; Dottie Keesee, 101; Dora Hubbard, 100; and Sue Aylor, 100. This was the first event of its kind in Valley View’s 25-year history. Motley said she and activity assistant Penny Henry wanted to recognize the women who were 100 or older because they’ve never had this many residents at one time reach such an impressive milestone — and because they love them. “I admire them to have lived this long,” Henry said. “It’s quite a feat.”
Long-lived residents are nothing new to Valley View. There are a lot of residents in their 90s, and three or four other residents have celebrated their 100th birthdays. Before this group, the most residents living at the center who were more than 100 years old at one time was three, Motley said.
The event featured a question and answer session with the women, during which they imparted wisdom on how to live a long and pleasant life — namely, focus on the happiness of those around you and yours will follow.
“Make other people happy,” Lewis said. “Don’t complain and if you’re not going to say something nice, don’t say it.”
Burleigh added, “Be nice and think of others.”
While the women didn’t expand much on their good living advice, Henry discussed what they had told her over the years about longevity.
“They’ll tell you it’s just because they worked hard, lived right and went to church,” she said, adding they were all country girls who lived through the Depression, working on farms, cleaning their clothes with a scrubbing board and using outdoor toilets.
The questions were interspersed with musical performances from a Valley View volunteer as well as punch and cake. Family members and employees shared funny stories about the guests of honor, including how Lewis calls her walker her “limousine” and loves to go for hamburgers and chicken sandwiches.
Motley described how Keesee enjoys helping set up events — one year she wrapped herself in Christmas lights to get in the festive spirit as she assisted with the holiday decorations.
A lot of the established residents will take newcomers under their wing. Burleigh is no exception, making sure her new neighbor knew about the dining hours and accompanying her to dinner to help her feel welcome, staff members said. “These ladies are very special to me,” Motley said.
A few jokes were lovingly thrown around about the women’s tendencies, including how Cooper sits in the lobby and knows who’s coming and going and what’s happening at Valley View and if Motley doesn’t hug her every day, Motley will get a “walloping.”
Henry described Keesee as the “lil’ mama of the group” due to her nurturing personality, making sure everyone’s collar is properly fitted. Henry praised Aylor for her devotion, attending all of the religious events and gatherings at the center. “I’ve learned so much from them, and I get so much wisdom from these ladies,” Henry said.
Hubbard’s daughter, Wanda Pleasants, said she thought the recognition was very nice. “We really need to show more respect for our elders,” she said. Her favorite part was listening to family members talk about the women. Hubbard said she enjoyed the recognition, adding she was pleased to see so many people there. “That shows they like us,” she said with a smile.
Lori Motley, Activities Director, shares with the crowd that Nellie Cooper, 102, treats her like a daughter, as Hazel Burleigh, 103, and four other residents are honored.
Dottie Keesee, 101, Dora Hubbard, 100 and Sue Aylor, 100 listen to the many loving memories shared by family and friends as they are honored.