Perry students hear from centenarian

By Merri Hanjora -

Thelma Wilson, 101, of Lima, talks to sixth-grade girls at Perry Elementary School on Thursday afternoon.

Craig J. Orosz | The Lima News

LIMA — She’s been there — and then some.

Lima resident Thelma Wilson, 101, visited Perry Elementary Thursday to speak with a group of sixth-grade girls and share what she’s learned over her lifetime.

She met with a group of Fleet sorority girls, a group at the school started by Mary Monford. The group’s name references the Commodore Fleet.

Wilson was born April 10, 1916, in Smith Station, Alabama. She was the youngest of 10 children. Because she was the youngest, her nickname was Baby Doll.

“A lot of people down there don’t even know my name,” said Wilson.

Wilson has been in Lima for 75 years. She has four children, two deceased, 15 grandchildren, 22 great-grandchildren and 10 great-great-grandchildren. She is a member of Fourth Street Missionary Baptist Church and recently retired from the choir. She is the oldest member of the church.

The girls learned that Wilson was not allowed to have a boyfriend. Her favorite subject in school was reading, and her favorite color is red. Wilson played basketball and hopscotch during recess at school, and she got to school by horse and buggy.

“If it was nice weather, we walked,” said Wilson.

Wilson told the girls she learned to cook and helped her mom do the cooking and cleaning. The family had no inside water, so they drew water from the well to clean the dishes.

Her father bought their first brand new automobile in 1925. It was a 1925 Ford, four door. Black with a lighter color on top.

“He paid cash for the car, I think it was $500. We weren’t allowed to touch the car because you could see our fingerprints on the black paint,” said Wilson.

Her family was one of the first in the area to get a television set. Other kids would come to her house to watch it.

Wilson had the pleasure of meeting President Obama when he was in Lima. When asked how she felt about meeting the first black president, she said she was surprised.

“We had a good talk,” said Wilson.

On offering advice, Wilson was quick to say the kids need to mind, no slipping. Wilson said she went to Sunday school every Sunday.

“You have to go to church, children,” said Wilson.

Wilson’s daughter, Barb Banks, and granddaughter, Crystal, accompanied her to the presentation. Banks was quick to speak up about honoring parents.

“I never dreamed my mother would ever live to be 100. It’s an honor to me. So you kids remember, honor your father and mother while you can. You never know how much time you’re going to have with them. Don’t be sassy,” said Banks.

Monford announced to the group that Wilson had become an honorary member of the sorority, giving her an anchor pin and a necklace.

Fleet, open to any sixth-grade girl at the school, meets once a week at lunchtime. There are 35 girls participating this year. The boys have a similar group as well.

“I graduated from the school and when I came back to Lima, I wanted to give back to the school,” Monford said. “They had no African-American staff and that bothered me because they have so many African-American students.”

After talking with the principal, Monford set to come out to the school at least once a week. She started the sorority last year.

“I told them that a sorority is a sisterhood. … One of the things we talked about was the fact that there is a lot of conflict with the girls and that happens. So we just brought them together and they have to be accountable to each other. If you see someone in the sorority acting up, it’s your duty as a sister to keep them in check,” said Monford.

It was Monford’s idea to invite Wilson.

“This is her second time coming here to Perry school. I invited her last year when she was 100. The girls really, really enjoyed her. Of all the speakers they had, she was their favorite, so I wanted to invite her back this year for this new group of sixth-grade girls,” said Monford.

Thelma Wilson, 101, of Lima, talks to sixth-grade girls at Perry Elementary School on Thursday afternoon. Wilson, 101, of Lima, talks to sixth-grade girls at Perry Elementary School on Thursday afternoon. Craig J. Orosz | The Lima News

By Merri Hanjora

Reach Merri Hanjora at 567-242-0511.

Reach Merri Hanjora at 567-242-0511.