Cornelius woman celebrates 100th birthday
by Alan Hodge
“There’s no way to describe it.”
That statement from centenarian Blanche Foard Rodgers not only expresses her opinion on the difference between the states of the world now and when she was growing up on a cotton farm in the early 1900s, but also sums up the atmosphere of love and happiness that was evident at her 100th birthday celebration Saturday.
Rodgers’ great-niece, Wanda McAuley, and her, husband Steve hosted the party at their Cornelius home, where “Auntie” has lived for the past seven years. Fittingly, more than a hundred friends and relatives from as far as Wilmington showed up to wish Rodgers well.
Rodgers’ roots run deep. Her great-great-great-grandfather, John Foard, signed the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. Born on Jan. 31, 1911, Rodgers grew up in Union County on land sharecropped by her parents James Franklin and Mary Hooks Foard. Sharing some stories at Saturday’s party, Rodgers’ recalled those days.
“My mother made me a little hoe when I was five years old,” she said. “I thought it was nice until I found out I had to use it in the fields.”
Rodgers’ favorite day on the farm was Sunday, the Sabbath, because she got to take a break from the hard work on the farm.
“There was no work done on Sunday, that suited me fine,” she said.
Of course farm life just after the turn of the 20th century did have some perks.
“We had some good things to eat,” Rodgers recalled. “Lots of peaches, damson plums and plenty of fresh sausage. There was home-churned butter, too, but it had to be sweet.”
Rodgers attended Mill Grove School, a one-room structure near the border of Mecklenburg and Union counties near present day Hemby Bridge. The school housed nearly 40 students from first through seventh grades.
“My uncle Dave came to our house in the first car I ever saw,” she said. “I rode in it a little bit but got out of that thing.”
A few years later, Rodgers spotted her first airplane.
“My mother and I saw it in the sky doing stunts,” she said. “The pilot was named Johnny Crowell.”
In 1929, she married Jyles Rodgers, a commercial building superintendent for Georgia-based Batson-Cook Company. His work took them all over the country working on projects such as banks, offices and colleges.
“It cost us ten dollars to get married,” Rodgers said. “I was so skinny that Jyles said he wondered if he was getting his money’s worth.”
The days of the Great Depression saw them living in Washington, D.C. It was there that Rodgers’ true grit and generosity, traits she still exhibits today, had plenty of chances to be exercised.
“There was no money and even if you had money there was little food to buy,” Rodgers recalled. “Once I had one egg, a little corn meal, and some syrup. I made corn cakes for my husband, myself, and a lady who had no where else to go. Another time we had one tomato, some lima beans I had scorched and enough flour to make a few biscuits. There was a knock at the door and a gentleman there who said he was hungry. Jyles told him to wait and I would fix something to eat.
“That man apparently wanted money because he left, but another one came asking for food and we gave him the scorched lima beans, a biscuit, and some tomato. He was so hungry he mixed it all together. He was really hungry.”
Having lived for a century, Rodgers has some pretty firm ideas on where the nation is headed and why.
“Sometimes it seems things are going to the dogs,” Rodgers said. “It started when they took God out of the schools. Oh mercy, that messed up everything.”
Rodgers credits her deep faith, as well as abstaining from tobacco and alcohol, as one secret for hitting the century mark in years.
Following a bout with bad health, Rodgers came to live with the McAuley family seven years ago.
“She is queen of the roost,” Wanda McAuley said. “It has been the greatest honor of my life taking care of her. She has a rich faith and heritage, as well as, the best attitude towards life.
“Her memory is amazing, she can recall things that happened when she was two years old. She told us she can remember as a very young child seeing a wagon full of furniture cross a creek when they were moving.”
Even the younger generation is in awe of Rodgers. Nine-year-old great-great-niece Shira Edwards, daughter of John and Marie Edwards, of Huntersville, summed up both Rodgers’ life and the big 100th birthday bash in just one word:
“Awesome,” she said.