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Irene Ferguson turns 100, still going strong

Jerrie Whiteley
Herald Democrat
Irene Ferguson celebrated her 100th birthday this week at Meadowbrook Care Center in Van Alstyne.

Centenarian says belief in God, the Golden Rule are key

On Jan. 4, 1921 Mary and Arthur Harnest welcomed a baby girl to their family in Denison. She would eventually have four siblings.

This week, that baby girl, Irene Ferguson , turned 100 years old. At the Meadowbrook Care Center in Van Alstyne, she is known for smoking eight times a day, keeping everyone's plants alive and rising before the sun.

As for what has kept her going all of these years, Ferguson said, "God's will."

Monday, she celebrated at the care facility with presents and flowers from family and friends. She also took a little time to talk about her life and share some of the wisdom gained over 100 years.

The key thing is to live by, she said, is the golden rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." 

Though she has been a resident of some sort of assisted living center for at least 15 years, Ferguson is no front porch rocker sitter.

She gets up at around 4 every morning.

"I have to have my cup of coffee and a cookie," she said.

Then she starts in on her chores.

"I make my bed and get ready for the day," she said.

Meadowbrook Activity Director Jennifer Whicker said getting ready includes doing her hair and the whole nine yards.

"She is a snappy dresser," Whicker said of Ferguson who has a love  for broaches and other jewelry and wears it regularly. 

"Honey, some of the clothes I have are 20 years old," Ferguson said.

"But you are always dolled up like you are ready to go out dancing," Whicker responded. 

In addition to fashion, Ferguson also has a passion for plants and tends to those in her room, and when the weather allows, those outside the facility.

"Wherever I go, they turn the flowers over to me," Ferguson said and laughed. She just loves to watch and help things grow.

One of the reasons Ferguson is still able to do so much, she said is because she hasn't had many health problems outside of hay fever and allergies. She can't attribute that run of good health to anything specific, as she said she is not a particularly healthy eater and has not been a work out fanatic. 

She loves chocolate, is not a picky eater and has smoked since 1948 when her husband went into the military. It is a practice she continues to this day and has not planned to give up.

Though these days, she requires a little help getting those smokes going.

"Her thumb gave out a long time ago she said," Whicker recounted during their joint interview.

That thumb may not like to keep going, but the rest of her sure does. Ferguson likes to keep busy, isn't a fan of television and prefers country music on the radio. She isn't much of reader and her eyesight is not as good as it was.

But then, she never was a big reader. She left school early to help support her family.

"I quit-u-ated (combination quit and graduated)," she said and then laughed. "I never did like to go to school any how." 

Eventually, she met the man she would marry, Charlie Ferguson, and they would eventually have two boys and two girls together. Then the early death of one of their daughters led them to raise a grandson. All but one of those children is now deceased. Her remaining daughter is in her 70s or 80s, she said. From those four children, the couple was blessed with four grandchildren, ten great grandchildren and six great great grandchildren. Charlie Ferguson died in February of 2006. 

The grandson that they raised, however, is still alive. Whicker said when he calls to check up on his mom, his first question normally is, "Is she still smoking?"

 Though the years were hard for her to distinguish at this point, she can recount that Charlie worked as an airplane mechanic at Perrin Air Force Base and that they owned a small farm for a while. 

She liked being a farmer's wife.

"I could tell you exactly how much it took to make a bale of cotton," she said of the experience of working in the fields picking the commodity. 

In addition, she worked at a local sewing factory for 20 years and then at a bakery for a few years after that.

"She is in really good shape for a 100 and I wish that we could all look like her and get around like her being 100 years old," Whicker said.

Like the rest of the world, Ferguson spent 2020, her 99th year, dealing with a world-wide pandemic which she referred to as "that crazy disease."

"It hasn't been rough locked up," she said of the COVID-19 restrictions placed on nursing homes. "Of course, I get up and get around and go out back (when the weather permits)."

None of her daily list of things to get done has anything to do with politics, she said though.

"Whenever we had the election, I went in there and asked her if she wanted to register to vote," Whicker said.

"Hell no," Ferguson said.  None of that matters to her at this point.

She has never used a computer but her daughter did during her work. Ferguson has used a flip phone but isn't impressed with the modern technology. 

"It didn't suit me just right," she said of the phone her grandson bought her.

As for her future plans, Ferguson said she is just going to keep on doing what she has been doing including taking care of her plants and her fellow residents whenever needed and possible. 

As for advice for the rest of us for reaching her age, she said it pretty simple.

"Go to church and believe in God. That's the way I grew up."