Marjorie Hutchinson Howard, you inspire many.
Not just because you turned 101 on Wednesday.
But because of your spirit, perseverance and drive, and for showing us how to stay fit, no matter what age.
You are not a swimmer. But I watched Wednesday as you stepped methodically into a Junior Olympic-size pool at St. Andrews Family Fitness Plus in West Ashley.
You bicycled and walked four laps while holding onto the side of the pool, sporting your red bathing suit. (A shout-out to your fellow Deltas.)
Then for 30 minutes, you danced and moved in a water aerobics class to popular tunes: “Summer Breeze,” “Do you know the way to San Jose?” and “I Say a Little Prayer for You.”
Everyone stopped by to wish you Happy Birthday. They all know; you are there twice a week.
Even tiny tots.
And older ones, too.
Helen McCoy came in, pushing her walker. She stepped into the pool, waded over to you, and you embraced like long-lost friends. At 96, McCoy also comes twice weekly, “when I can get a ride.
“I don’t usually come on Wednesdays but I had to come for Marjie.”
A “wonderful spirit”
Mrs. Marjie, as many call you, I learned you are a retired Charleston County school teacher. You have taught at several schools, including Burke and C.A. Brown. You were the first African-American Charleston County Teacher of the Year after segregation in 1976.
You graduated from Avery Normal Institute in 1929 and have a master’s in teaching math from Columbia University in New York.
You come from a family of teachers — your mother, sister, brother and daughter, Sandra L. Quick.
The center brings you joy. You have been coming since the 1990s after your husband died.
He was a boater and “a water rat.” He tried to teach you to swim but “it never took. I can float.”
Still, you believe young people should learn to swim.
Until a few years ago, you drove yourself to the fitness center. Your husband of 50 years taught you, even encouraged you to get back at the wheel after you struck a fire hydrant and feared driving.
Your daughter and grandson drove you when you no longer could due to poor eyesight.
Then a North Charleston couple who comes to the center five days a week, decided they would pick you up.
Oliver and Elizabeth Addison said it is their pleasure.
“It is such a blessing to see her wonderful spirit ... she is a living testimony. I just love her,” Elizabeth Addison said.
“I wouldn’t be coming if the Addisons did not pick me up.”
Kudos. We could all take a lesson from them.
‘A fairly good life’
Workers and colleagues held a party for you, and friends and family celebrated your day.
“I didn’t want to live this long but I am not going to commit suicide,” you said with a smile.
Your life philosophy: prayer, work, study, physical exercise, eating correctly and sleeping.
You started writing your memoirs. But you stopped.
You should start again. You have much to say.
For instance, this story.
It’s was in the mid-20s, you and your older sister were headed to New York by boat because it was the “cheapest way to travel.”
Of course, during segregation, whites were in first class on the top deck and blacks were in third class on the bottom. You were about 11 or 12 — subteen you call it. Your sister was 9 years older. Many of the young black male workers were smitten with her.
“They treated me like a queen because they liked my sister, Hermine.”
Then, “I got seasick before we got past the jetties.”
So one worker went up to the top deck, sneaked a lounge chair out and brought it to lower deck so you could rest comfortably. The boat ride took three days.
You love telling that story.
Reflecting, you said “I have had a fairly good life. I am a private person. I like making people happy. But “I don’t think my life is spectacular.”
We beg to differ.
Reach Assistant Features Editor Shirley A. Greene at 937-5555, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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