Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Birthday Two-fer

Family, friends honoring 2 centenarians

No secrets to aging, but hard work helps

By Jewell Cardwell
Beacon Journal columnist

Published on Saturday, Apr 19, 2008

Their families have spared no expense nor investment of time in planning two supremely important birthday bashes today.

While the honorees' lives probably have never intersected — not formally, anyway — they share a common thread.

Josephine Fuller and Elvina Gulley are not only turning the corner on 100 years of living, but they also are doing so with style, grace and a real enthusiasm for the bridges they've crossed and what still lies ahead.

Mrs. Fuller

Josephine (Kightlinger) Fuller has always marched to the beat of her drum.

It's served her well so far.

As she approaches her 100th birthday, she sees no reason to change the recipe.

I met her this week at Forrest Motors of Ohio Inc. in Barberton, which is owned by her son Forrest C. Fuller. She is one of the partners in the parent company — Al for Limited.

Mrs. Fuller — who still gets around remarkably well — was born April 21, 1908, in Meadville, Pa., on a dairy farm; she was one of nine children.

''It just creeps up on you,'' Mrs. Fuller said about turning 100. ''You just don't think about the time.''

By the way, Mrs. Fuller insists she doesn't have any special formula for aging so well.

''I eat anything I want, although I don't care for milk,'' an animated-and-engaging Mrs. Fuller noted. ''But I do like yogurt.''

Mrs. Fuller, dressed in casual chic clothing like you might see on the golf course, has two children, Forrest of Atwater and Duane of Staten Island, N.Y. A third son, Jack, is deceased.

She also has 10 grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren and just recently celebrated the birth of her first great-great-grandchild.

One thing is for sure; they've got a treasure chest of stories from the family matriarch, guaranteed to educate and entertain them for many years to come.

''I learned to do everything,'' Mrs. Fuller took great pride in saying.

At an early age, she even found herself charged with driving a milk truck.

She recalled one time while making her rounds, ''the brakes gave out and I was just shaking.''

Somehow she kept her wits about her and she announced, ''I still got the milk to where it was supposed to go and on time.''

Mrs. Fuller met her husband Charles at 17 and was married at 19.

They had been married 72 years when he died in 2000.

He worked a variety of jobs, including farmer, meat cutter and self-taught musician.

She was a seamstress, doing everything by hand.

The couple also worked together for many years caring for people with mental disabilities.

''When she was in the independent-living apartment, she was beating the pants off of everyone in poker. She's unbeatable!'' boasted daughter-in-law A.J. Fuller.

These days, Mrs. Fuller resides in an apartment in Marlboro Township. She shares cooking on the weekends with another friend.

She formerly pursued oil painting and crocheting. ''I've made so many afghans, I've lost track of the number,'' she said.

When she's not out walking or watching television's Wheel of Fortune or Lawrence Welk Show reruns, Mrs. Fuller enjoys the company of Chester, her Bijon Fraise dog.

Except for a daily blood pressure pill, she's in incredibly good health.

Mrs. Fuller will be honored at a birthday bash at the Tangier restaurant in Akron with local musician Larry Altop performing.

Mrs. Gulley

Elvina (Marshall) Gulley isn't nearly as excited about turning 100 as she is about the prospects of having an African-American president.

Her eyes light up and her voice moves into a higher octave as talk turns to Sen. Barack Obama and his amazing journey — Something Mrs. Gulley, who is also African-American, said she never thought she would see in her lifetime.

''He has my vote!'' she wanted me to know.

Mrs. Gulley is conversant on a wide range of subjects, including cooking and canning.

Nattily dressed in a light blue suit, Mrs. Gulley is in remarkably good health given her advanced years.

She was born March 18, 1908, to Simon Marshall and Narcissus Patterson Marshall in Repton, Ala., the fourth of 14 children, with 12 growing to maturity.

She and her husband, Willie E. Gulley, moved to Springfield Township in 1953. They were married for 49 years before his death in 1974.

The Gulleys also had 14 children, with 12 growing to maturity.

Mrs. Gulley's children are Robert of Mobile, Ala.; Judge of Akron; Willie Pearl Davidson of Pensacola, Fla.; Amanda Mims of Akron; Clara Tolbert of Pensacola; Ben and James, both of Akron; Cornelia Isabell and Delores Gulley Drone, both of Akron; and Walter, David, William, John Lee and Eloise, all deceased.

No stranger to hard work, Mrs. Gulley farmed in her native Alabama.

She also was a bit of an entrepreneur, ''growing vegetables and selling them to 'mobile' grocers or rolling stores, as they were called, in exchange for the items she needed to take care of her children and her household,'' said daughter Delores Gulley Drone.

''The lights rarely went out in our house at night, as she created and made clothing for the boys and girls in her family.''

Mrs. Gulley also was a prolific quilter. ''I used to make mattresses for the beds, too,'' she said of the leftover cotton she used to pick.

''She taught her children well with the meager academics she possessed,'' Gulley Drone said. ''She would help them with their homework and emphasized education and school attendance.

''She also taught them all — boys and girls — how to be good cooks and housekeepers. . . . She never failed to remember that her children needed to honor God in all their efforts. So, she made sure they attended Sunday school and church regularly.''

Mrs. Gulley also has 56 grandchildren, 89 great-grandchildren, 72 great-greatgranchildren and 73 nieces and nephews.

Asked for her recipe for a long and happy life, she had a simple answer. ''Hard work. I don't think it hurt me a bit,'' she said.

Genes may have been a factor, too, as she had a sister who lived to be 105 and an aunt lived to be 107.

The best thing anyone ever said about her? ''That they never known no one who worked as hard as me and that I'm a good person,'' she was happy to reply.

Mrs. Gulley will be feted today with a party at the Cathedral Buffet in Cuyahoga Falls.

Jewell Cardwell can be reached at 330-996-3567 or

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