By Rebecca Brockman
Throughout life, certain milestones are reached along the way that merit a celebration and a moment of reflection. Milestones build the foundation of one's life to create character and depth. Usually recognized in years, key life events are marked with 16 candles, first driver's license, a visit to the voting booth for the first time, turning 21, and a grand 50th birthday celebration. Each year brings changes, memories, and lessons learned.
Perhaps that is why, when Ollie Bishop was asked to recall some of the highlights and memories of her life, she paused and reflected for a while. The length of the pause might also have something to do with Ollie's age. She is turning 100 years old this month. When she was born, President Taft was inaugurated as the 27th President, Joan of Arc was declared a saint, and Orville Wright tested his first Army airplane. When wished an early happy birthday, Ollie said simply, "I'm just going to be 100."
The humble Centenarian lives at the Heritage Living Center in Conway. Ollie lived on her own until three years ago, her daughter-in-law Esther Bishop said. Along with Esther, many family members were present at the Living Center during the interview. Wearing a bright red blouse, Ollie smiled as she was wheeled into the room.
Overwhelmed, she looked around the room for a familiar face. Her great niece, Carla Scarborough approached Ollie and after a few seconds, Ollie said, "Carla!" in a sweet, excited tone. Obviously Ollie still has her memory and did not have a problem identifying all of the family members who were present.
In her frail hands, she held a picture of a little girl. When asked who was in the picture, Ollie paused, looked at the photo and spoke the name of her great, great grandchild. The little, blonde-haired girl was also present at the interview. As family surrounded her, Ollie did her best answering the questions. She kept saying, "I'm so excited, I can't think." After living 100 years, her excitement and loss for words were understandable.
Ollie was born in the community of Black Fork, Arkansas on January 19, 1909. She has outlived all twelve of her siblings and her late husband. Ollie has five children: four sons and one daughter who currently lives in Michigan. When asked how she met her husband, all the family members in the room laughed and said, "Tell the story about how you met your husband." "We were going home from church and he said he would give anyone a candy bar if someone would be his girlfriend," Ollie said with a sweet smile. That simple agreement led to a lifetime of friends and family. When asked how long she was married, Ollie said, "Darned if I know!" Her family noted her keen sense of humor and good attitude.
Ollie is also known for being caring and loving. During her lengthy work career, Ollie had a variety of jobs. She worked as a waitress at a restaurant in Clinton that her husband owned. Ollie recalled meeting all kinds of people. "I love people," she said with sincere affirmation.
Along the way, Ollie was also an elementary school teacher. Her son, Patrick Bishop and his wife, Esther, told a sweet story about Ollie taking care of a little boy during a snowstorm. They said Ollie was teaching in the one-room Rock House School in the Republican Community in Faulkner County, and one day a small boy rode in on a mule. The young boy was the only one who made the journey through the snowstorm. Her family said she rocked the little boy on her lap and kept him warm and safe for the entire day.
She credits the love of family and friends as the reason for her longevity. Additionally, green beans, oatmeal, and "farm food" have added to her long life. Her husband was an avid gardener, a skill her sons have carried on. Patrick remembers living in houses without electricity and sometimes no water or well. He said his family would put perishable items in a small icebox.
Ollie's great grandmother was full Cherokee, perhaps another key to Ollie's longevity and innate ability to survive on limited resources. During conversations with her family, Ollie said she wouldn't want to be 100 again, "It is too much work," she joked.
A birthday party is planned for Ollie on January 18, a day prior to the actual milestone, at the Heritage Living Center. Families from around the state are planning to celebrate with Ollie as she turns 100 years old.
Ollie's life is one to celebrate and causes one to pause and be thankful for the simple things like family, friends, and a candy bar at just the right time.