ASU Alumna to Celebrate 107th Birthday
By Hazel Scott/ASU
Ethel Abrahams will celebrate her 107th birthday on Sunday, May 28, making her most likely the oldest living alumna of Alabama State University.
She graduated from ASU in 1938 and went back to her hometown of Uniontown, Ala., where she was a 5th-grade teacher for many years until her retirement.
She credits Alabama State Teachers College (now Alabama State University) and her professors for instilling in her the academic know-how and drive to face the world’s challenges.
“If you needed help, they would give it to you and tell you to go on and get your education so that you could help others,” Abrahams said.
Despite her advanced age, Abrahams is still active.
“I walk every day. That’s my exercise.” Abrahams said, who had just finished walking before we talked with her.
At times, she uses a rolling walker on those walks and a cane when she is inside the house. And at times she may not hear you clearly, but mentally she is still sharp and positive on all fronts.
“My mom doesn’t have any health issues. She eats right, doesn’t take any prescribed medicine and she will proudly tell you she doesn’t smoke or drink,” said her daughter, Berna Howell. “It’s a blessing to have my mom here. I think she is a remarkable and an incredible person.”
When Abrahams turned 100, her daughter had her mom come live with her. “She was still taking care of business on the farm, but I felt more comfortable with her here with me,” Howell said.
One of the great stabilizers in Abrahams’ life is the church. Abrahams has been a faithful member of New Horizons in Faith Church in Fairburn, where her son-in-law, Dr. LaReece Howell, is pastor.
“I attend church every Sunday and every Wednesday night and I read my Bible daily. I look to the Lord to give me what I need to live right. Church is my lifeline. I give thanks to the Man Upstairs for my longevity.”
A FULL LIFE
Howell said her mother and her father, Walter, were married for 58 years. She describes Abrahams as a family person, with 3 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
“She prays for them every day,” Howell said.
Abrahams recalls her mother’s activities outside of the classroom, which centered on those things she learned as a child growing up on a farm, such as riding a tractor, an activity that she still enjoys.
“She was a member of the garden club, and she loved to garden. She grew watermelons and greens and okra…you name it. She had chickens and cows and churned her own butter. She made soap out of lye. She made quilts and took stockings and made rugs with them,” Howell said.
Abrahams was born in 1916 during World War 1. She lived through the Great Depression, World War 11, and the landing of a man on the Moon. She has seen a lot of important inventions in her lifetime -- electric home appliances, heating and cooling, stoves, irons and electronics.
“I used to wash clothes on a scrub board, now we have washing machines. When I was growing up, we also didn’t have cell phones,” she said.
Abrahams is one of nine children born to her parents. “She is the sole survivor. All of her siblings lived pretty long lives,” said Howell.
Abrahams has developed many talents over the course of her 106 years. One such special talent is repeating the alphabet backwards, which she happily did for us in less than 10 seconds.
“ZYXWVUTSRQPONMLKJIHGFEDCBA,” she sounded out proudly.
Howell said her mother usually asks people if they want her to go fast or slow.
“Everybody would ask her, ‘say them backwards! Say them backwards!’ And she could say them so fast,” Howell said. “This is something she has always done to entertain her grandkids and great-grandchildren.”
Howell noted that a couple of her grandkids have come close to reciting the ABCs backward. “I know I couldn’t do it. “
Her best advice for the younger generation: “Stay active and stay interested in certain things you are doing; and, of course, always obey your parents.”
The life mantra she lives by is to treat people as you want to be treated. “You can’t go wrong if you do that,” Abrahams added.
At just over 5 feet tall, Abrahams said she feels good, nothing hurts and she has few regrets.
"I've had such a good life," she said. "I just don't know of anything I'd change. I've been so blessed throughout my life."
Abrahams took a moment and said there is one thing she wanted to do that she never got around to doing.
“I wanted to meet President Obama,” she said.
Family and friends gathered on May 21 for a pre-birthday celebration at a private venue to honor her milestone and to shower her with love and gifts. Her tributes included a letter from Alabama State University President, Dr. Quinton T. Ross, Jr., and a plaque from the University.
“Mrs. Abrahams walked up two flights of stairs at the event venue. Incredible,” said Audrey Parks, ASU’s director of Development, who attended the celebration on behalf of the University.
Several “Hornets” representing the Metro Atlanta Chapter of the National Alumni Association also showed up for the happy occasion.
“Mrs. Abrahams is the epitome of spunk and positivism,” said Willie Jackson, president of the Metro Atlanta Chapter. “She is always up. That’s her M.O. She is not a typical 106-year-old."
When Abrahams was asked what she wanted for her birthday she said, “Nothing specific.”
“All I want is to continue to walk with the Lord. I want him to be on my side and me on his side. And I want to be with my family,”
Her family is planning a quiet dinner this Sunday, May 28, at a restaurant in Georgia to celebrate her amazing milestone.