Shirley Graham to celebrate 90th
They grow them for a long time in the Paris area it seems, or so says one who knows. Shirley Graham will be 90 in a few more days. And she’s not alone with that distinction. She is part of a special trio at Paris United Methodist Church.
Audrey Harrison and Helen Sanders share nine decades of memories too. “Audrey sits two seats in front of Helen, and I sit right next to Helen,” she pointed out, adding, “We are the 90’s group.”She’ll hit her own magic mark on December 9, and celebrate that distinction on the very next day at an open house from 2-4 p.m. at Paris UMC. “I told them no party,” she said, “but they don’t listen.” And this party just could be a stepping stone for many more celebrations in upcoming years. Her family certainly knows longevity. A daughter of Hugh Thompson and Madge (Peeper), Shirley was born in Big Rapids. “I know right where the house is and I know the woman who lives in it today, but this home right here has been my home now almost forever.” She lives just into Newaygo County now. “Bill and I moved in here 70 years ago on Pearl Harbor Day. His parents came over that day and told us about Pearl Harbor. We never had heard until they said it, and that was awful news.” She claimed there was no need for an interview. She had no claim to fame, “and I never did anything spectacular, never broke the law, and just lived a plain ol’ life,” but she was willing to visit. Shirley worked at Reed City Hospital for seven years as a housekeeping supervisor, but when Bill quit, I decided to retire too and have more fun.” He had worked at Kel-Reed in Reed City, and for a short time in Hudsonville, “but then came up here and got a job at Gardner-Denver for the rest of the time.” She remembers “those” years, when their own children were small and times were even tougher than today. “Times when we lived here and my kids would walk to school well up the road, and in the winter take their sleds so they could get down the hills going both ways and have fun at the same time.” Times when they had toys made from oatmeal boxes, a dollhouse from cardboard. The kids included Bob Graham of Reed City, Beverly Ellis at Hersey, and Gary Graham of Linden, “south of Flint. And we’re a five-generation family. I have seven grandchildren from the three children, 12 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren. The last great-great is only three months old and lives in South Carolina.” About that good chance of celebrating another decades or so? “Let’s just say that when Bill and I celebrated our golden wedding anniversary, my mom and his mother were both there. So was my maid-of-honor and Bill’s best man. “My mother lived to be 93, and my mother-in-law lived to be one hundred five and a half. We had a big party for her 100th birthday, and hired a plane to fly over with a big happy birthday banner hanging from it, and she could hear it and wondered, ‘What is that thing doing!’ it was so low so she could see it. ‘What’s that airplane doing?’ “You know, she never said anything like, ‘I may not be here next year.’ And every year there she was. Her body was worn out, but her mind was so sharp. She hung around for a long time after she turned a hundred and every year we had to figure out what to do. We had to have a party for the next five years, and wouldn’t have been surprised for a sixth.” They were more than surprised when she died at just 105.5. She recalls when Paris had a couple pickle stations, two bars, three grocery stores and a big garage. Even a Dr. Pepper bottling plant. She talked about her years of working with 4-H and loving it. She also loved to sew, but now macular degeneration makes that more difficult. There’s a real bit of sadness knowing that she may have to quit driving. But for this gentle lady who took in a cat one Christmas years ago, “because he came before we left for church and didn’t just go away, I thought it had been dropped off. When I got home it was freezing cold, so I let it in. and named it Noel. It is important to me and I to it.” She enjoys company, loves her family, appreciates neighbors “and they just come and shovel me out and their teenage boys come by just to see I’m okay or do I need anything.” She remembers family camping at Sand Lake, with the three trailers “circled,” and things like knee replacement Memories to visit her over the years in the next decade or beyond. For now, there’s that open house coming up, and Noel to feed, and banana bread to bake for when company comes. And memories spanning nine decades and that trio of special ladies she’s part of every Sunday. After all, life is fun and meant to be enjoyed. Just ask Shirley Graham. Audrey. And Helen.