ST. PETERSBURG – The hymn “Let God Abide” definitely applied to Gussie Oliver, the grand centennial matriarch of her family of five generations. Her daughter Barbara Hale and her daughter Michelle Parnell hosted a family gathering to celebrate Gussie’s 100th birthday at the Thomas Jet Jackson Recreation Center March 20.
Relatives and friends swarmed the entrance to the celebration when they were informed that Gussie was about to enter the room. As she made her way through the corridor—dancing in her wheelchair—everyone cheered and clapped. In between dance moves, she embraced her many family members who were all there to celebrate her big day.
Gussie is originally from Leesboro, Fla., where she was born to Sallie and Archie Washington on March 16, 1916. She moved with her sister Eunice and mother to 1128 4th Ave. S. in St. Pete when she was just three years old. She had five sisters and two brothers, and is the only living child from that union.
In the mid-1930s, Gussie married Arlis Oliver and had two daughters, Hale and Dorothy Shore.
The Oliver family tree expanded to seven grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and 11 great-great grandchildren. Each generation was present and accounted for at the centennial celebration.
Ernest Freeman and his wife traveled all the way across the state from Daytona Beach to celebrate his aunt’s 100th birthday
“She’s a sweetheart,” said Freeman. “I wished everyone nowadays had at least 10 percent of the kindness and sweetness that she has.”
As a child, Freeman used to visit his aunt from Crescent City, Fla., a small town of about 5,000 people. He remembers loading up on mangos from the tree on the side of Gussie’s house, and reminisced about visiting Webb’s City, the one-stop shop before Walmart was ever thought of.
“We used to come here for that and were like kids in candy land.”
“Family is important to her, and she just told us today to stick together and still be family,” said Rosaline Pickett, Gussie’s niece. “And we’re going to stick together because we’re going to be together for a long, long time.”
Joanne Fuller stated how important her aunt has been in her life. As a child, Gussie took care of her while her mother was at work.
“She loved family and would defend us to the end. She has been a real staple in this family right now, and she is the matriarch in our family right now. She’s just an amazing woman, not afraid of anyone or anybody.”
Parnell said her grandmother is the center of attention at family gatherings.
“During all the holiday seasons she is full of life,” said Parnell. “She loves family gatherings. She was the main barbequer [sic] and always had the biggest meats. So we had good times when it came to family gatherings led by my grandmother.”
Parnell shared a special message to the centenarian.
“Grandmother, I want to let you know you mean the world to me. Not only to me but to my kids, my family…We love you so much, and we’re just grateful and excited that you were able to reach this 100 year centennial milestone. Grandmother, we love you!”
Hale took time out from serving guests to speak about her beloved mother. “She’s always been one of the nicest moms I know,” said Hale without any hesitation.
She continued to describe a mother that was not afraid of life and whatever it threw at her.
“She likes life, been hardworking and she did the best she could to raise me and my sister. I learned a lot from her about being respectful of our adults and elders because that’s what helps to contribute to raising children,” stated Hale.
Gussie revealed her zest for life when Frankie Beverly impersonator James “Geech” Aldermen performed. Front and center, she danced, waved her hands in the air and tried her hardest to get a wheelchair bound family member to dance with her. Pretty soon they were both bustin’ some moves.
The culminating activity was the cutting of the birthday cake. Gussie was very determined to blow out her candles on her cake. She also made sure she cut the first piece as cheers from her family filled the room.