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Advice, lessons from two Atlanta women who have lived 100 years


Gladys Cornelius was surprised to see so many people at her 100th birthday party early this month.

When she arrived at the Windy Hill Community Center dressed in a royal blue gown with sheer sequined sleeves, she was greeted by a crowd of friends and family including an old friend who offered up a 60-year-old memory.

"A kid from my neighborhood spoke about how my dog 'Tiger' used to follow me to the bus stop as I left for work and then wait there for me when I got home. It is a very fond memory that I laugh about with my children today," said Cornelius in an interview with the AJC.

Cornelius has many more memories from her 100 years of living, some of which she recently shared in a new book, "We the Resilient: Wisdom for America from Women Born Before Suffrage," (Luminare Press, $24.95).

Related:  Meet the 100-year-old Austell woman who still preaches and teaches

The book features more than 70 women ranging in age from 96 to 104 who lived through the Great Depression, World War II, and most recently, the unsuccessful run of the first female presidential candidate of a major political party.

Cornelius, one of two women from the metro area whose stories were featured in the book, said she was excited to vote for Hillary Clinton in the most recent presidential election.

"My children (she has eight) and grandchildren (21 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren) have had many more opportunities than I did and I'm happy to still be here to see it all," she said.

The native of Davisboro, Georgia, said she often turned to prayer to help her through hardest times in her life and in the country.

Despite the limitations placed on young women of her time, Cornelius said she made sure she always worked and got involved with organizations that offered her strength and support.

She participated in marches during the civil rights movement and recalls the 1960s as an era in the country when the economy was doing well and people got along.

Cornelius tells anyone who asks the secret to her long life is, " I eat right. I do not drink alcohol. I drink plenty of water. I try not worry about things, I stay positive, and I pray," she said.

Just one year younger than Cornelius, Faye Butler of Decatur, said she too prefers a positive approach to living. Butler, who will turn 99 on June 25, taught in a one room school-house in her native Council Bluffs, Iowa after graduating from high school. Her salary was $50 a month to teach all eight grade levels, she said.

After two years, she had saved enough money to attend college where she studied English literature and eventually got a job teaching English that paid more than double her old salary.

Butler said she had much encouragement throughout her life from her father -- who believed that girls were as much entitled to an education as boys -- as well as her school teachers and her husband.

She recalled the years during World War II when her family received devastating news of her brother's death. At the time, she observed how family, friends and neighbors all pulled together to get through those difficult moments.

"I just remember how during the war everybody was working together -- Victory gardens, picking up scrap metal -- my mother sold more war bonds than anyone else in town. You just felt that everybody was working together and now I feel there is a lot of division. I think that concerns me as much as anything," she said during an interview at her home.

Butler relocated to Georgia thirteen years ago and now lives with her daughter. She gets around with the help of a walker, but said if she could have, she would have attended the women's march earlier this year in Washington, D.C. She would have liked to stand in solidarity with other women, she said.

Her advice to younger generations includes turning off the TV and doing something with their hands other than texting or tweeting.

"I think it is very important to learn how to do something with your hands. I used to make all my own clothes. I made a lot of clothes for my kids," she said. "I feel sorry they aren’t teaching sewing, cooking and shop," she said, pointing to the wood furniture that her late husband crafted.

Despite suffering from macular degeneration, Butler remains an avid reader. "Reading means a lot to me. I get audio books from the library for the blind. That has always been a thing that I have enjoyed doing the most. I don’t advise people to read, but I am always surprised when they don't," she said.


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About the Author

Nedra Rhone has been a features reporter with the AJC for 10 years. She’s written about everything from fashion to food to news.