Women born before suffrage celebrate 100+ years

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Meg Hibbert Contributing writer

Two days before women throughout the nation gathered to stand up for their rights in Washington, Roanoke and across the nation, nine area residents born before females won the vote got together to celebrate 100-plus years of their own history.

The event was a Centennial Celebration at Richfield Living community, held in the Jane Morgan Harris Chapel. It honored residents who are already 104, 103, 102, 101 and 100, as well as those who will turn 100 in the next few months.

“We have almost 900 years of different life stories and backgrounds in this room,” said Mark Guerry, director of Life Enrichment for The Rehab Center and Richfield’s Recovery and Care Center where all nine of the honorees live.

While waiting for the event to start, 104-year-old Nannie Bowens talked about the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump the day before on television. “I enjoyed watching all that,” she said. “I remember when Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated, Herbert Hoover and other presidents,” she added.

“Every one of our honorees was born before women had the right to vote with the enactment of the 19th amendment in 1920,” Richfield President George Childs pointed out in his welcoming remarks to the centenarians and their families.

In addition to Bowens, the honorees and their ages were: Alma Perdue, 103; Lillian Newman, 102; Mozelle Dobyns, 101; Orba Owens, 100; Genevieve Hailey, who will be 100 in February; Evelyn Causey, 100 in June; Vivian Buchanan, 100 in July and Dorothy Hudson, 100 in December.

Nannie Bowens’ family had a big party for her at her family’s church, when she turned 100. When she was younger, she used to do a lot of cooking at home and for her church, Jefferson Street Primitive Baptist. She still has a good appetite. “I like to eat mostly anything nice. I love fried chicken,” Bowens said.

The former Nannie Wade was one of 11 children who grew up on a farm “right above Boones Mill. When my daddy died, I was just 2 years old, and there were two children younger than me,” she remembered. “We all just did what we could to help my mother, Sallie Wade.”

Bowens and her husband, the late Alfred Bowens, had three boys and a girl. Michael, the youngest, was at the party with his wife Ruth. The others are Joe, Ronald, and Patricia Penn.

Nannie Bowens worked at Community Hospital where she retired after doing housekeeping “and different things.” She has 40 grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren of her own.

These days Bowens enjoys reading the paper and her little Bible, and using colored pencils to color detailed designs in adult coloring books. As to her secret for living so long and in pretty good health, “I just trust the Lord for everything. I thank Jesus. He’s got all the power in his hands.”

Genevieve Hailey, who will turn 100 next month, talked about graduating from Jefferson High School and working in Washington during World War II for the Navy. She continued working as a secretary in the Nation’s Capital for the Office of the Price Administration after the war, her daughter said.

She remained single all her life “but I was on the edge of marriage a good many times,” she said, smiling a little. When she came back to Roanoke, she lived with her mother, Lily Lavender Hailey, who had a small rooming house. Her father was an electrician for Norfolk & Western Railroad. “Railroading has been a good industry in the United States,” she added.

These days she likes participating in activities at RRC, particularly when the weather is warmer. “I like to get out in the sunshine, and have some ice tea,” she said. “I like to eat mostly anything nice – butterbeans, string beans, fruit. At home I liked making potato salad,” Hailey said, giving her recipe: “You put celery and pickles and pickle juice and vinegar and mayonnaise in it.”

Dorothy Hudson, who will celebrate her 100 birthday in December, remembered that when she first started working as a secretary for the Roanoke Merchants Association she bought her parents a gas-run refrigerator “that you had to put 25 cents in to run. Somebody came by and collected the money later,” said daughter Betty Brown

Dorothy Hudson’s daddy had a grocery store in Old Southwest Roanoke when she was growing up, daughter Kathy Hudson recalled. “He delivered groceries with a horse and buggy,” she added. Her mother retired as a clerk for Roanoke County in the engineer’s office in the old courthouse in downtown Salem – now owned by Roanoke College.

In keeping with those times, the party had a roaring 1920s theme of gold, black and white, with jazzy live music provided by church music directors Josh O’Dell of Thrashers Memorial on piano and Brandon Mock of Greene Memorial in Vinton on saxophone.

The event was planned by individual life enrichment coordinators from the residence areas of Recovery and Care Center: Ayla Hartless, Rachel Baber and Sarah Keel. “We plan to do this again next January,” said Mark Guerry, “because all of these ladies are the oldest ones on the Richfield campus.”