Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Calhoun County series.
Living to be 100 years old is a milestone that not many reach. There are an estimated 97,000 in the United States population of 328 million. That makes it important to capture their memories and words of wisdom when possible.
For several months, staff and Senior Millage Allocation Committee members have worked to interview Calhoun County residents, age 99 or older. Of the 35 centenarians identified, 24 participated.
A display of their stories was celebrated during an Open House on July 23 at the United Methodist Church in Marshall.
Geraldine Stubblefield, 105, of Battle Creek.
“This project has touched us in so many ways. The history of Calhoun County is found in the stories of our older adults, and we need to make time to have important conversations about their history,” says Helen Guzzo, Manager of Calhoun County Senior Services. “We are so thankful to the 24 centenarians and their families who were willing to share their life stories with us. So many of them worked for historical employers in Calhoun County: the Sanitarium, Albion Malleable, and the Kellogg Company. Life can be especially fragile for people who have lived to 100 or over.”
Since they were interviewed, two of the centenarians have passed.
This fall, the display featuring their stories and photos will be at the Calhoun County Fair, August 14-21; the Albion Festival of the Forks, Sept. 17-18; and Battle Creek’s Fall into the Arts, October 15. Other appearances are being scheduled.
Guzzo says, modern history is being written by the everyday person in the way they worked to provide for their families, the family vacations they took, and the memories they made along the way.
“Preserving our history means talking to our older adults while they can still hear and remember. These conversations are precious,” Guzzo says. “The goal of this project is to celebrate aging and all the contributions that our older adults have made to their communities. Calhoun County wants to promote a healthy view of aging and encourage everyone to seek out the older adults in their lives and ask about the lives they have lived.”
Helen Guzzo, Manager, Calhoun County Senior Services, and Gary Tompkins, Calhoun County Board member, made short remarks at Friday’s centenarians event at Marshall United Methodist Church.
As part of our regular coverage of all things Battle Creek and Calhoun County, On the Ground Battle Creek will be highlighting the centenarian stories on our website and social media platforms.
“We're starting with Annabelle Thorpe, 101-years-old, who lives in Battle Creek,” says Kathy Jennings, Managing Editor for On the Ground Battle Creek. “We hope our readers enjoy learning about the centenarians as much as we have. We appreciate their words of wisdom and their unique view on today's world.”
Annabelle Thorpe is 101 and lives in Battle Creek.
Annabelle Thorpe: A church historian
Annabelle Thorpe was the second oldest of nine children, so there were always games and laughter in her family’s home.
She was born in Geneva, Indiana, to parents Mary and Vernon. The family moved to Battle Creek in 1926 when she was still a child so her father, a brick mason, could find work. As one of the oldest, it was her responsibility to take care of her younger siblings. Although Annabelle had this responsibility, she still made time for her favorite toy doll, and she enjoyed playing the piano, organ, and singing in the church choir.
She attended Battle Creek Central. Annabelle married her husband Robert in 1939 and they had four daughters, Barbara, Kay, Shirley, and Terrie who in turn gave them six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. She worked at Kellogg’s but was mostly a homemaker, and enjoyed doing arts and crafts, and sewing.
After her husband retired from Kellogg’s in 1980, they would spend winters down in Texas where they enjoyed many outdoor activities until Robert’s passing in 1995. Her greatest accomplishment has been raising her family and compiling the church history of Sonoma United Methodist Church, now Grace Fellowship Baptist Church.
Her favorite memories include building her dream house and planting all the wildflowers herself. She also loved to drive her favorite car: a baby blue Plymouth Valiant. She remembers the laughter and joy each Christmas when the family would gather and discuss the past, present, and future.
One of the hardest times in Annabelle’s life was taking care of her family during World War II while her husband was serving in the US Navy. Of the numerous inventions she has seen during her lifetime, Annabelle’s favorite has been the dishwasher, stating “after years of doing the dishes by hand, it has been nice to let a machine do all the work!”
Throughout her life, Annabelle has learned to “listen as much as you talk, believe in God always, and ‘I’m not always right but I learn.’” Her advice to younger generations is to do what is right, learn from your mistakes, and forgive, love, and live in God’s grace.”