More than two-dozen people surrounded Mrs. Nellie Mae Lawrence in the great room of an Assisted Living facility in Russellville last week to celebrate her 103rd birthday. Most of us can’t even imagine what it would be like to live a century, much less three years past one. But for Mrs. Nell, as she was known by many, it was just another birthday and turning a century plus three for her, was the same as when the double zeros rolled around.
“I don’t know why I’m still here, I guess God has something for me to do. I want to make sure I do it before I go,” Lawrence said.
When a lot of people reach an older age, much younger than Mrs. Nell, they can sometimes experience a deterioration of both body and mind, however, for Lawrence, that hasn’t been a problem, for she is as sharp as she was years prior, and although a walker sometimes lends her a helping hand in getting around, she can still manage crossing a floor by herself and even cleaning her own room.
“I really never imagined being this age,” said a chuckling Mrs. Nell, adding she believes the secret to longevity for her was hard work and staying active. “I never minded working, I enjoyed it.”
Lawrence began working after eighth grade. She recalls loving school, but having a dozen siblings and losing her father at age 8, working soon became a stark reality. She admits she doesn’t really remember much about her father, not due to her age, but because she was so young when he died. She has a memory of him unloading an ice block off a horse-pulled wagon in the back of their house. The block of course was for the icebox, as Mrs. Nell grew up without electricity, running water and indoor plumbing. She remembers seeing her first automobile as it carried her father to the cemetery. He died of pneumonia. “You know back then, people died of things they don’t today,” Lawrence said.
It was a hard life growing up, Mrs. Nell’s mother never remarried after her husband passed, and did her best at caring for a large family on a single mom’s salary. Raising a garden was a must just to feed that many children. A few months after Mrs. Nell’s father died, she lost her youngest sibling. Times were tough, but instead of letting that beat her down, she persevered and became a very strong woman passing on that strength to the generations that came after, and boy where there many. Lawrence has two daughters, Charlene Lawrence Webb and Mary Lee Lawrence Chapman, 10 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren, and 13 great-great-grandchildren.
Mrs. Nell was born to Lewis and Callie Scarborough on March 29, 1910 in Dover, Tenn. Her family moved to Logan County when her parents purchased a farm in the Keysburg area around 1917. After her father died, her mother moved the family to Clarksville, Tenn. where her two sisters lived. Mrs. Nell returned to Logan County when she married Charles (Charlie) Edward Lawrence on Dec. 24, 1928. While making a living and raising a family, they moved a few times before making their final move in 1958 to the home they built on their Logan County farm. Mrs. Nell’s mother was living with them when she died in 1963.
Hard times hit Mrs. Nell once again in 1979 when her husband died. She lived over two decades by herself after that, taking care of grandchildren and great-grandchildren until she decided herself to move into the assisted living home in 2004.
One of the most important things in life for Mrs. Nell, other than her family, has been her relationship with God and her church. She is the oldest living member of Mount Gilead Baptist Church in Allensville since 1937.
Mrs. Nell was the family seamstress who enjoyed making clothes for every occasion, even formals. She croche’s and makes quilts and is an avid gardener with both vegetables and flowers. She loves UK basketball and has always been willing and eager to help family and friends in any way she can.
When asked what have been the highlights of her life, she says, “being able to help my family and watching it grow.”