101 Years of Memories

Published 10:42 am Tuesday, February 3, 2009

While most of America celebrated one of the biggest football days of the year on Super Bowl Sunday, one little lady was celebrating one of the biggest days of her life.

On Feb. 1, Ironton resident Flora Williams blew out the candles on her ice cream cake in honor of turning 101. And to her great-niece Kathy Thompson’s surprise, it only took her two tries to extinguish the three flickering flames.

A small crowd of family surrounded Williams for her birthday festivities, which is somewhat indicative of the simplicity of her life for the past century.

Email newsletter signup

Never married and never a mother, she spent nearly half of her life in the company of primary-age children as an elementary-school teacher.

She began her career in a one-room schoolhouse in LaGrange, teaching first- through fourth-graders. The two-mile walk to school was a path she and her students trekked everyday, even during the winter.

“We walked (to school) in the snow,” Williams said as she snuggled under her thick brown afghan. Her niece added that classes were never cancelled on account of the winter weather.

Williams said she taught every subject, from math to reading to spelling to a little bit of science. But her favorite part of the day did not take place inside the schoolhouse.

“(My favorite part of teaching was) playground duty,” she said. “The kids had fun.”

Williams said she gathered the most joy from watching the children run and play, and oftentimes she even kicked up the dirt as she played with them.

For the last 30 years of her teaching career, Williams primarily taught second grade at Whitwell Elementary School in Ironton. Thompson was eventually a student in her classroom, during which she said she never witnessed her great aunt use a paddle.

And of course, it was never used on Kathy who professed to always behaving.

But her students were not the only children to pass through Williams’ life. In fact, she was the youngest of seven children growing up in her household.

Her father, a city engineer, and her stay-at-home mother had three sons and four daughters. Two of Williams’ brothers died from complications of appendicitis and whooping cough at ages 8 and 2, respectively.

Williams said she does not remember much about growing up with her siblings, but perhaps her large family instigated her passion for children and education.

Her own education was an important aspect, as well. In a time when most women did not receive a post-high-school education, she and two of her sisters enrolled in college. For Williams, school would be over 800 miles from home at Graceland College in Lamoni, Iowa.

And hitting the books was not the only thing that filled her time. She also hit the pool as a member of the college’s swim team, and would shoot hoops with the women of her basketball team, a sport for which she would carry a love for the rest of her life.

It is one of her favorite things to do now that she spends all of her time inside her home. She watches basketball games of all types: men’s, women’s, local, professional. Her love for the sport on the court is undying.

After Williams retired from the school system, she continued her passion for education as a substitute teacher. But the school children were not the only ones receiving care from her.

“I stayed at home and helped my mother with housework,” Williams said. She and her siblings would clean house and run errands for their mother — whatever she needed, they were at her beck and call.

Much like the caregivers Williams and her siblings were for their mother, Thompson and other family members continuously offer time and attention to the centenarian.

“There is just about always someone here,” Thompson said. And although Williams can still adequately maneuver around the house, she chooses to not leave the premises.

Her care-giving family brings daily meals and care to their great-aunt Flora — or in some cases, great-great-great-aunt Flora. Williams is the top branch in the five living generations of their genealogical tree.

As for the significant national events that have happened in the last 101 years of Williams’ life, there are not many that she could remember. Living through six wars, from World War I to the current War on Terror, the only thing she recalled was that everything was rationed during the World War I.

Regarding President Barack Obama’s election into office, she was undecided on her feelings.

“He might be good,” she said. “I just don’t know.”

Perhaps by birthday number 102, she will have had a chance to form an opinion.