Daughters, granddaughters chronicle centenarian’s life on her 100th birthday

Alice J. Henderson

 

A Bradley County centenarian celebrated her 100th birthday singing and dancing with more than 180 friends and family members.

Among Alice J. Henderson’s well wishers were President Barack Obama and Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who sent proclamations. Warren Mayor Bryan Martin and Mt. Carmel Baptist Church Pastor Eddie Hampton, who attended the celebration, also issued proclamations in her honor.

Alice's birthday cake
Alice’s birthday cake

To mark the occasion, which was celebrated at her church and at a huge party at the Warren High School, Alice’s daughters and granddaughters chronicled her life, one decade at a time.

When Alice Henderson was born, on January 10, 1916, Woodrow Wilson was president and the United States had not yet entered World War I.

She was born in Marsden (Bradley County) in a log cabin with no running water or electricity. Her parents, Peter and Mary Neal Thomas, used oil lamps for lighting, a wood stove for cooking and heating, and well water for drinking, cooking, bathing, and doing laundry, which was washed on a washboard, according to Laurie Henderson.

Alice with two sisters and  brother
Alice with sisters and brother

The family had a garden for vegetables, and hogs and chickens for meat and eggs. They purchased flour and seasonings from peddlers or a store, and her mother made bread and biscuits.

At the age of six, Alice started school where she learned to read, write, spell and do arithmetic. “She was a very good speller,” Laurie Henderson said, chronicling the first decade of Alice’s life. “There weren’t enough books so everything was done on the blackboard. She would spell line for line 24 words and write them on the blackboard.”

Because Alice’s father was a preacher, the family would spend the entire day, every Sunday, at church. Alice was baptized in a small pond behind her uncle’s house. Communion was only given during a baptism and everyone drank from the same container, Laurie Henderson said.

As a child, Alice enjoyed going barefoot. She enjoyed playing ball, whip cracker, paper dolls, hide and seek, and swinging and jumping rope when she completed her chores. At the age of 9 or 10, Alice started picking cotton. “This is probably how her father paid for goods,” Laurie Henderson said.

Alice and her children
Alice and her children

In the second decade of Alice’s life, 1926-1936, her courtship with John T. Henderson began. Her older sister married, became a widow and returned home, according to Malissa Ingram.

The third decade of Alice’s life brought marriage and children. She married John Henderson, the love of her life, and had three children. John worked at Blankinship Motors and could use cars on the weekend to take the family on rides. “Her favorite pastimes were going out for ice cream and silent movies,” said Stephanie Crawford, chronicling the third decade of Alice’s life. She also joined Mt. Carmel Baptist church, where she is still a member, and recalls John buying her first coat at Martin’s Department Store in Warren.

Between 1946 and 1956, Alice had three more children and her husband went to Connecticut for work when a plant where he was working shut down. “She did laundry for white folks in addition to own,” said Keshia Henderson. “She was still using a washboard: washed once, rinsed twice, hung them to dry and then ironed them.”

In the next decade, four of Alice’s children graduated from high school, two going into the military. Her oldest child moved to Portland, Oregon, three of her children married, her youngest brother died, and her first grandchild was born, according to Alice Ingram

Henderson with grandchildren and great grandchildren
Alice with her grandchildren and great grandchildren

Between 1966 and 1976, two more of Alice’s children and a grandchild graduated from high school, five more grandchildren were born, her first great grandchild was born and her husband suffered a stroke and went on permanent disability after briefly returning to work. Her mother and mother-in-law died, her youngest daughter went away to college, and in 1974, Alice’s husband died. “She learned how to suffer and depend on God in every way,” said Norma Henderson-Minter. “She lived without an income for two years until she was old enough to receive benefits. Her children learned faith and trust in God as well as responsibility. They were her financial backbone.”

Alice and her family
Alice and her family

Over the next 20 years, Alice’s family grew. More grandchildren and her first great grandchild were born. She also lost a grandchild during those years. A grandson died in 1990, according to Yvonne Crowell and Lora Crowell-Jette who chronicled those years.

When she was in her eighties, Alice traveled to Chicago and visited the church of her former pastor, Rev. C. J. Brook. She also had bypass surgery and two pacemakers, and another of her daughters enrolled in college, according to Dr. Kimberly Henderson-Steimke.

Mt. Carmel Baptist Church proclaims January 10, 2016 as Alice Henderson Day. She is the oldest member of the church.
Mt. Carmel Baptist Church proclaims January 10, 2016 as Alice Henderson Day. She is the oldest member of the church.

In her nineties, Alice voted for and witnessed the election of the first black president of the United States, a son-in-law died, and a great niece was murdered. She had two pacemaker surgeries, getting up and moving around the same day, and traveled out of state to every family reunion. One of her daughters and two granddaughters graduated from college, one with a doctorate in education, said Sharon Henderson-Rice, adding that her grandmother Alice’s faith had inspired her.

Thanking Alice with helping raise Sharon, Marion Gail Henderson-Crowell, had the honor of presenting Alice to her birthday guests.

Warren Mayor Bryan Martin presents Alice with city proclamation.
Warren Mayor Bryan Martin presents Alice with city proclamation.
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