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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Brazos Valley African American Museum celebrates 100th birthday of local woman

Photo by Photo by Cassie Stricker

Five generations of Johnie Mae Gillespie-Anderson’s family gathered to celebrate her 100th birthday.

Family and community members gathered at the Brazos Valley African American Museum Saturday afternoon to celebrate the life and 100th birthday of area native Johnie Mae Gillespie-Anderson.

The first of three daughters born to John and Gertrude Holston-Gillespie, Gillespie-Anderson entered the world on January 29, 1917 — a time when the Women’s Suffrage movement was gaining momentum and the United States was only months away from officially entering the first World War. Her birthplace and early home was a black community in Bryan called Silver Hills and although she would move several times during her life, Gillespie-Anderson stayed deeply connected to her Brazos Valley roots.

Oliver Sadberry, Brazos Valley African American Museum Curator and A&M Class of 1970, said the celebration of Gillespie-Anderson’s century of life was consistent with the BVAAM’s mission to preserve and convey the experiences of African Americans in the Brazos Valley and beyond.

“This is part of the history of the community,” Sadberry said. “This lady — Jan. 29th she’ll be 100 years old. She was born in this area, so she’s been in and out of this area all of her life. So that’s certainly part of the story that we want to tell.”

The celebration included scripture readings, prayers and remarks from three local Reverends, a musical tribute from the Anderson Family Choir and the presentation of an official proclamation from the city of Bryan wishing Gillespie-Anderson a happy birthday.

Byron Ferrell, to whom Gillespie-Anderson is a great aunt, said for him the occasion was nearly indescribable.

“I can’t even put into words what it means because people just don’t live to be 100 these days and the things that she has been through and seen since 1917 — it’s amazing,” Ferrell said.

Ferrell said despite her age, Gillespie-Anderson remains quite capable, both physically and mentally.

“My aunt has a lot to offer,” Ferrell said. “She’s just an amazing person. You can tell she’s healthy, she’s in her right mind, she gets along fine, but it’s just a blessing because she was able to be here this long and that in itself is just awesome.”

Over the course of her life, Gillespie-Anderson held a wide variety of jobs, working in cotton fields, a winery, a laundry room and a cafe, and later become a dedicated volunteer at her children’s schools and the Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church.

Gillespie-Anderson’s grandson John Agent reflected on all his grandmother has seen in her century of life, and said he is often amazed at how much she has retained.

“It’s like this wealth of experience,” Agent said. “A lot of it she can’t share back because you have to kind of remind her, [and then] she throws it back at you. But when she throws it back at you, you’re just sitting there in awe.”

Agent said even as her age has increased and her descendents have become more and more numerous — now including 14 grandchildren, 24 great-grandchildren, 23 great-great grandchildren and one great-great-great granddaughter — Gillespie-Anderson has remained dedicated to the happiness of others.

“At 100 she’s still very humble, and very polite,” Agent said. “So that’s one of those things I’ve always kind of laughed about, that she really works hard at making sure everybody else is okay.”

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