Looking back on a century of life gives a perspective few people are privileged to have. For Elsie Smith, it’s about family and legacy that will carry on.
Smith will turn 100-years-old Wednesday but did not start thinking about it until just recently.
“The last year or so but I still didn’t believe it was going to happen,” she said. “My kids kept saying I was going to make it.”
This past weekend, five generations gathered at the Appanoose Historic School, which also turns 100-years-old this year, to celebrate the milestone with her. That legacy includes seven kids, 23 grandkids, 58 great-grandkids and three great-great grandkids.
Elsie, whose name means “God of Plenty” was looking forward to seeing the people that mean the most to her.
“I’ve been blessed a lot,” she said. “God has been very good to me. I have a lot of support from my family. I love my children and grandchildren and love to have them come and see me. Most of them are planning to be here. I said let’s call it a reunion and not a party. When they told me about the party I said I didn’t want a big celebration and they said I was going to get it anyway.”
Elsie was born in Stevens County in southwest Kansas. It’s close to the border of Oklahoma and Colorado. She said the dust storms there forced her father to move the family back to eastern Kansas when they had family in Franklin County. She attended school in Coffey County before settling back again in this area.
She has lived in and around Franklin County for all of her life except for a 13-year stretch when she moved to Texas to do volunteer ministry work.
Through those early years she had different jobs. She took care of newborn babies before she was married and worked as a cook for her neighbors for some time making $2.50 a week. She also worked for Bennett’s Dairy in Ottawa wrapping butter. The pay was much better there where she earned $16 a week.
In Texas, she and her husband, Alvin, managed over 300 bee hives and Elsie volunteered at Roloff Ministry’s as kitchen manager feeding over 500 girls each day.
One event stands out in her memory. She recalls the flood of 1951. Just before the flood, during the rains that led up to it, their barn was struck by lightning as her husband was milking cows.
“I remember that real well,” she said. “We had our barn burn first and had rural telephones then. You rang a rural telephone number for help and I rang and in five minutes our yard was full of help. We didn’t get the fire out but we saved all the animals.”
A few years later the family moved to the house where her husband grew up. She remembers doing some remodeling and moving in when tragedy struck again.
“It caught on fire and burned down,” she said. “I had seven children, the youngest was two-weeks old. I remember again how everyone pitched in and brought us things we needed. People were so good.”
Elsie was married to Alvin for 70 years and has attended the Centropolis Baptist Church for 60 years, except for her time in Texas. She said the people there are very special to her.
When asked about the secret to her long life she said, “Eat healthy, work hard and stay close to the Lord.”