By Edison T. Brown, III,
When Terry, MS matriarch Eula Viola Polk was born, a gallon of gas cost seven cents, and a loaf of bread, a nickel. She was also born the first year that the zippers were used in clothing.
Her life has spanned to see so many things, and she’s not done yet. On Sunday, May 24, to celebrate her 108th birthday, Polk’s hometown had a parade in her honor.
Terry Mayor Joseph Kendrick, a Terry resident, said it was an honor for the city of Terry to celebrate Polk. “I grew up across the street from her,” said Kendrick. “She has been a great pillar of our community. In fact she is a mother figure to our community, and for [her] to live to see 108 and be in her right mind, still mobile is a blessing.”
Polk told reporters she was blessed to receive such a grand way to celebrate her blessed milestone. Motorists passed her home yelling out birthday wishes to her as she smiled with such gratitude. Polk attributes her longevity to “living a life that suits God.”
She recalls that voting is one of her most rewarding experiences. She doesn’t remember when she registered to vote but has not missed an election since. “I have never missed voting in an election and I was excited when I was able to exercise that right and help elect the first black president, Barack Obama,” she told The Mississippi Link.
When Polk was born, William Howard Taft (serving from 1909 to 1913) was president of the United States.
Hailing from a large family, she grew up as a hard-working farm girl. “We walked wherever we had to go, whether it was cold or hot, rain or sunshine,” Polk said. “We walked to school and church. [Sometimes] we rode in a wagon.”
One can only imagine what a joy it was for Polk to see all of those cars parading down her street Sunday. “Oh, I love it!” she expressed.
Her life has been enriched by her children (one deceased), grandchildren, nieces, nephews and devoted caretaker. Her son, Moses Lee Hurk of New Jersey credits his mother’s guidance as shaping his life today. “She brought me up in the church and introduced me to God. My mother’s guidance led me to become the man and caring father that I am today.”
Niece Dollie Gathings describes her as “dependable and adventurous.” Another niece, Mae Grant, describes her aunt as living “a life of integrity before the Lord and her family. She continues to give wise counsel and is indeed a rare jewel.”
Her nephew-in-law, Rev. Dennis Grant describes his aunt as “wise, humble and classy.” He states, “She always encourages me and says when I preach, ‘Be sure to tell them the truth, Doc!’”
He also described her character as well. “She loves to serve people and she never looks for personal praise but always gives God the glory for whatever she does.” He compares his aunt to Phoebe, the biblical figure found in Romans 16:1, who is described as a “[commendable] servant” of the Church.
Longtime friend, Kristen Sulser Guinn, whose family were employers of Polk during the 1960s, endears her with these adjectives: “Faithful, Beautiful and Resilent.” “She has been my example of dignity, hard work and beauty my whole life and she has blessed us all beyond measure,” Guinn said.
Her grandchildren state that she is “loving, compassionate, helpful and confident.” They enjoy her family stories and her pearls of wisdom she never hesitates to share.
Polk is a member of Little Bethel CME Church in Terry, MS. She has served the church in a multitude of roles: Sunday school teacher, secretary, usher, choir member and missionary president are just a few. She also represents her church as a delegate for the district conference of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.
She received an Honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from the New Foundation Theological Seminary in Mississippi May 5, 2012.
Polk uses her influence to help people everywhere she goes. She states that in her 108 years she has seen a lot of things.
When asked what advice she would give young people about how to live a long and healthy life she replied: “I would tell them to stop being so selfish, stop living their life for other people, leave the hard stuff alone, like drugs, and let God lead you.”
Gail M. Brown also contributed to this article.