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Ellabell's Olive Mae Lewis Edwards celebrates 100th birthday
Celebration held Saturday at Ellabell United Methodist Church
Olive Mae Lewis Edwards celebrated her 100th birthday on Saturday at Ellabell United Methodist Church. Shown with here are her children (not in order): Janet Strickland, Mabel Ansley, Marie Bacon and William Edwards.

Some moments are just naturally bigger than the Georgia-Florida game.

Olive Mae Edwards’ 100th birthday was one of them.

It was celebrated Saturday afternoon at Ellabell United Methodist Church. There, the parking lots overflowed and so did the fellowship hall a mere hour before kickoff.

“This is a big event,” said the church’s pastor, the Rev. Clay Loadman, and explained why in four words.

“She’s our church matriarch.”

Edwards, who joined Ellabell United Methodist in 1946, is also the church’s first centenarian. More than that, those who know her say, she is an integral part of the area’s history.

For 14 years, Edwards was Ellabell’s postmaster — until, as she put it, people moving from Savannah into Effingham began spreading into Bryan County.

“I just decided I didn’t want to stay in there with all those new people coming in and go through all that,” Edwards said. “People think working in a post office s easy, but there is a lot to it.”

So, in 1984, she went to Savannah to put her paperwork in to retire and was twice asked to reconsider. twice asked to reconsider.

“They wanted me to stay until I was 70,” Edwards recalled, but she said no thanks, she wanted to spend some time with her husband, John, to whom she was married for 62 years before he passed away.

Edwards also could’ve gotten into politics, such was her reputation.

There was a time, Edwards said, before her retirement from the post office when two men came to ask her to consider a run for tax commissioner.

Edwards told the men no, because she had a good job and good insurance.

“I would’ve been a fool to give that up,” she recalled.

Together, Olive and John raised four children: school teachers Janet and Marie, nurse Mabel and carpenter William. Edwards now has eight grandchildren, 21 great grand-children and three great-great-grandchildren.

Along the way, until recently, Edwards played piano, taught Sunday school at Ellabell UMC (giving plenty of kids a ride to church on the way) and was director of the church choir while being one who recalls much that has happened during her lifetime.

“The stories she can tell of this area are amazing,” the Rev. Loadman said. “She knows every piece of land here and who it belongs to and what the history is.”

Others, including former Lanier Primary principal Dr. Patti Newman and Clara Shearouse, who worked for years for the school superintendent, call Edwards an amazing woman.

She may be a bit hard of hearing, they said, but she’s as sharp as a tack and knows her history.

“One amazing thing about her is that at 100, she has all of her faculties, every bit of them,” the Rev. Loadman said. “Talking to her on the phone, you’d never know you were talking to someone born 100 years ago.”

These days, Edwards says she keeps busy by reading the newspapers every morning, crocheting, watching television mostly the news, she said - and reading the Bible.

She enjoys doing crosswords and is Braves fan, and liked Elvis when he was younger, but not so much as he got older, she said.

Mostly, Edwards is a believer that God is the reason for everything.

“I just believe in the Lord a lot,” she said. “That’s the main thing that carried me through. I’ve always tried to eat right and live right, too.”

Edwards was born in 1918 in Alachua, Florida, and grew up on a farm. She learned to drive at 14 or so, helping her father work the peanut fields on which their hogs fed, and they ate them, too.

“We ate a lot of boiled peanuts in the summer,” she said.

There were tough times to follow as the Great Depression settled in, and Edwards and her family moved to Jacksonville in 1937. Edwards, a recent high school graduate, began working in a Kress department store in downtown Jacksonville, and her mother owned a two-story boarding house.

That’s where she met John, who was originally from Ellabell but had spent four years in the Marines and was down working at the shipyard in Jacksonville.

They dated for four months before getting married.

As World War II began, John was called up to the Navy, but he was allowed out because by then Olive had had their third child, and there was a rule in place at the time that anyone with three children was exempt from serving.

In 1946, the Edwards moved to Ellabell and built a house, and John ran the family turpentine business, farmed and did some trucking. Olive recalled a night when in 1951 when they went to Alachua and learned the next morning the house had burned.

She said two months before the house burned, a man selling insurance stopped by their home and John bought a policy.

“I told my husband I don’t imagine they’ll pay anything on it, because they just got our policy,” Edwards said. “But you know, it paid off. That was some of God’s business, to me it was anyway.”

They never found out what caused the fire.

Now, it’s hard to fit 100 years of living into a single news story, hard even to know where to begin.

Edwards remembers her one and only plane trip -- to Memphis to take a postmaster’s test and back, and thought it a big waste of taxpayer money -- and will tell you she doesn’t like being in or on the water, never has since someone dunked her under when she was a girl in Alachua.

Edwards is the second centenarian in Bryan County reported on in recent months – in September, Pembroke honored Altie Moody on her 105th birthday.

Edwards stays with her daughter whose family lives just down the road from the Moodys, and they consider Altie Moody a “fine woman,” they said.

For both women, there were celebrations with family and friends and countless photographs. There were certificates and other tokens of appreciation, too.

A few days after Edwards’ birthday, Marie displayed the intricate doilies and afghans and tablecloths, including one that had 336 pieces carefully tatted together, that Edwards has crafted over the years. Some were made decades ago, others more recent.

And though confined to a wheelchair, Edwards continues to crochet and recently fin shed a doily for a great-granddaughter. She has another afghan to complete and might well have it done before her next birthday.

“She is a wonderful mother,” her daughter Janet said. “She is an amazing woman.”

Certificates from the cities of RIchmond Hill and Pembroke and cards from well wishers on display at Olive Mae Lewis Edwards 100th birthday, celebrated Saturday at Ellabell Untied Methodist Church, where Edwards has been a member since 1946.
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