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Senior celebration: Event shares love across generations

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Annie Hardee listens to a musical performance by Orlanda Reed at the 16th Annual Senior Citizens Appreciation Ceremony on Wednesday at the C.M. Eppes Recreation Center.

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Karen Eckert
The Daily Reflector

Sunday, May 19, 2019

“You have a purpose — you are somebody.”

That was the message guest at the 16th annual Senior Citizens Appreciation Ceremony from keynote speaker Willis Bernard, co-pastor of About My Father’s Business Ministries. More than 100 people attended the event, organizers said.

The three-hour lunchtime ceremony was sponsored by The Benevolence Corps, a nonprofit organization that provides support for senior citizens, troubled teens, the hungry and others in the Greenville area.

“There are so many precious jewels in here,” Bernard said, as he spoke to the audience about the value of their life experiences.

“We need to share those experiences with those who don’t know,” he said.

The younger generations would not be where they are today if it wasn’t for the seniors, Bernard said.

Greenville Mayor P.J. Connelly, someone from one of those younger generations, welcomed the group on behalf of the City of Greenville and his office.

“We owe each of you a great deal of gratitude and appreciation for the contributions that you have made to society and a great deal of respect for the challenges that you’ve endured and barriers that you’ve overcome during your lives,” Connelly said.

In addition to sharing their experiences, Bernard told the seniors that they can also offer love and encouragement. Those are two things seniors can do just as much as anyone, he said.

There are apps for just about everything, but there’s no app that can give an actual hug, he said. “You must put your arms around somebody.”

Musical performances by senior citizens throughout the ceremony punctuated the messages of the speakers.

“This is my story, this is my song,” sang Orlanda Reed, 80, projecting loudly and clearly on the 19th century hymn, “Blessed Assurance,” one of several songs she performed at the ceremony.

Reed traveled from Winton in Hertford County to participate in the event, playing the piano in addition to singing.

On this particular hymn, she asked the guests to join her and many of them did.

Annie Hardee, 91, a long-time resident of Simpson, attended the event for the first time. She, too, had been invited to perform a few songs.

The ones she chose included a capella renditions of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” and “How Great Thou Art.”

She said she started singing in high school in the Glee Club at Pitt County Training School, which today is G.R. Whitfield. She also sang in her church choir, 

In addition to singing, Hardee still mows her own yard, tends to her flowers and drives.

“I keep myself busy,” said Hardee, who was married to the late Joe Hardee, a farmer, and is the aunt of Daniel House, pastor of St. Peter’s Missionary Baptist Church and the ceremony’s emcee.

“I just love people,” Hardee said. And she said she loves making people happy.

She said that her advice for a long life is to “take care of yourself.”

“Watch what you put in your stomach,” she said. She drinks plenty of water and juice and eats lots of fruits and vegetables. She does not drink coffee.

James Coleman Smith, 92, who lives in Pactolus, said that he is not as stringent regarding his diet and says he eats about anything.

The secret to his longevity is the Lord, he said. “I pray day and night.” 

He said he bowls once a week at the lanes in Greenville. Like Hardee, he still drives.

Smith, a former landscaper, said he had trimmed shrubs at his home the day before and his knee had been hurting, so, in spite of that, he was glad he was able to get out to the event.

“It’s nice,” he said.

It turned out that Smith was the oldest person at the event and Hardee the next-oldest.

At 90, Virginia Watts of Greenville was recognized as the third-oldest.

All three of the nonagenarians received floral arrangements in tall vases.

In addition to the guests in their 90s, there were plenty of people present from their 60s to 80s, as well, and they all received flowers of some type.

The flowers were donated by Jefferson’s Florist, Cox Floral Expressions and Fresh Market.

The guests also were treated to a buffet meal that included chicken, potato salad, green beans, fruit salad and cake. Food was provided by Food Lion, Walmart, Bojangles and Hardee’s.

In addition to Connelly and Bernard, other presenters included Rich Zeck, director of the Council on Aging; Hakima Evans, a dementia specialist; and Cynthia Ross from the Pitt County Department of Social Services-Adult Services. Each of them talked about services for seniors provided by their agencies. Margaretta Howard of DSS-Economic Services manned a table that guests could visit to pick up information about In-Home Aid Services, Respite Services and other programs.

“We’ve got to take care of one another,” Zeck said.

Wednesday’s celebration was about that very thing — taking care of senior citizens, participants said.

“A lot of people don’t quite grasp the importance of senior citizens and honoring (them),” said Keith Cooper, executive director of The Benevolence Corps and president of the Eastern N.C. Regional Association of Black Social Workers, a professional organization that helped with the event.

“It’s good to be around seniors. You can learn something,” said House, the emcee.

“It’s good to be alive,” he said.

Karen Eckert can be reached at 252-329-9565 and keckert@reflector.com.

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