Celebrating 100 Years

Published 11:08 pm Saturday, July 25, 2009

IRONTON — He has twinkling eyes, a ready smile and a lively stream of memories that only many, many years of life on earth can produce.

Ironton resident Rolland Mayo celebrated his 100th birthday on Wednesday. While many people younger than he would have taken to their bed long ago, Mayo is up and still going strong. At the century mark, he still cooks, still attends church regularly, even bowls in a bowling league. Rocking chair? Not hardly. Get those pins set!


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Rolland Roger Mayo was born July 22, 1909, in Gallia County. His earliest memory is of his grandmother’s farm on Buck Ridge.

“I remember the house we lived in, I was five years old,” Mayo recalled. “It was my grandmother’s old home place. I can remember sitting on the back steps. I can remember where the pig pen was, where the chicken coop was.”

Mayo’s memory is still sharp, those recollections of childhood still clear after more than nine decades of remembering.

“I can remember vividly when we moved off the old home place. My dad worked for a man called Pitzler. He had a house in the hollow and lived there and that is where my dad got his start. He saved enough money to put a down payment on a farm,” Mayo said.

“Dad raised wheat for cash and just about everything else we needed. We grew corn to feed livestock and we raised other things. We raised our own hogs and made our own corn meal. About the only things we bought were coffee and coal oil (kerosene) — the staples,” Mayo said. “Everything else, we raised it.”

Although he has happy memories of his childhood, he has no illusions.

“Farming is hard work. No machines, we had a horse and plow,” he said.

He moved to Ironton in 1920 and his first memory of Ironton is of the train station and of buying a hamburger at a place near the train depot and a cap at a store called Underselling. He remembers seeing the Ball’s Meat Market wagon going past his house.

He remembers going to Ironton High School not long after that building first opened. That was in the early 1920s. Most of that building is gone now, but Mayo remains.

Mayo worked at the C&O Railroad 49 years and raised his family in Ironton.

His children numbered 14 (12 are living) from two wives, Ella Brown and Allenne Marie McConnell. He doesn’t believe using phrases like step-child or half brother. If you’re family, you’re family. And over the years his family has grown. From those 14 children have come 31 grandchildren, 41 great-grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren and the number is still growing: Three new Mayo family members will be born this year.

100 years of living

In 100 years, Mayo has seen changes. When he was born he lived in an area with no street lights, no electricity, no telephones. Computers weren’t invented yet, nor was television. What one invention in his lifetime most impressed him?

“The Victrola,” he said without hesitation. “You’ve seen pictures of the little dog and the big ole’ horn? I remember the first time I saw one and the first song I heard played on it:

“Deacon Jones went out hunting one Sunday morning,’” Mayo can still remember the words and the lyrics and can still sing in a strong baritone.

“People came from all over to see that Victrola,” he recalled.

Staying busy

If his life has been long, it has also been busy and Mayo stays active even today. Mayo liked football and basketball. But he really liked fox hunting. They never actually caught the fox, he and his friends, but they chased them and their dogs got the thrill of the hunt if not the victor’s prize.

“Those old hounds loved fox hunting,” he recalls with amusement. So did he.

And he still cooks, too. Beans. Pot roasts. Even holiday dinners.

“I’m pretty good at cooking chicken and dumplings, too,” he said. “And I’ll tell you something else I can cook: cornbread and greens.”

He stays active in his church, too. Mayo is a deacon at New Jerusalem Christian Center, is chair of the men’s department, chair of the executive board and has served in a variety of capacities at the church over the years, a faithful and very willing servant to God and community.

Bowling with Rolland

Mayo started bowling at the age of 83 and is still on a league at Sparetime. Why did he get into bowling at a time in his life when some counterparts are giving up their hobbies?

“Somebody stole my last fox hounds,” he explained. “I had this cabin in the country and someone stole my last nine.” Friends took him bowling and he was hooked.

Mayo has been bowling at Sparetime since it opened in 1994. When he showed up to bowl Thursday, well-wishers greeted him with a cake and two birthday proclamations, one from Gov. Ted Strickland and the other from the Greater Ashland Bowling Association.

“He’s always got a smile on his face, always greets everyone. He’s a real inspiration to us at the bowling center,” Sparetime manager Jeff Dillow said.

Dillow described Mayo as “ a heck of a nice guy” who speaks lovingly and often about his family, his faith and, of course, bowling.

Mayo’s grandson, Rolland Holland, a sales rep for a carpet store in San Diego, said he told customers that his grandfather was celebrating his 100th birthday.

“They said, ‘oh, is he in a home?’” Collins mused. “And I said, “no, he’s out bowling.’ They just took a step back and looked at me and the woman said, ‘I gotta call my mom.’”

Living long

So what is the secret to his longevity? Mayo said there is none.

“I didn’t take care of myself. I laid out on the hills fox hunting. I stayed out many times and woke up covered in snow. I smoked when I was young, drank when I was young,” he said. He thinks it may be genetic and in this he has a point.

One uncle, Charlie Smith, lived to be 103. A cousin, Margaret Mayo Traylor, is still alive at 101. Both of his parents were past the 80-year mark when they died.

Asked if there was anything he would like to do that he hasn’t done, he replied he would like to see his son’s home in San Diego, Calif.

He is most proud of his children, Mayo said. Of his family, he said with a smile, “I’m blessed.”

A grand celebration

Mayo is being honored just about every place he goes these days. He recently attended church at First Pentecostal in Flatwoods, Ky., and his friends there celebrated his milestone with him. A family reception was Friday followed by a parade Saturday beginning at Ninth and Madison streets near his home. There was a banquet at his church Saturday and there will be a birthday service at 11 a.m. today at new Jerusalem Christian Center.