ORANGEBURG (AP) — Asked how it feels to be 104, Bennie Walker Jr. answers, “I feel great! I don’t have any problems.”
Walker, a native of Cope, reached the milestone Sept. 17. He was born in 1909 on a 4,000- to 5,000-acre plantation owned by the Zeigler family in Cope. He is the oldest of 10 children born to Bennie Walker Sr. and Elizabeth “Lizzie” Walker.
Walker, who now lives in Orangeburg, hasn’t let his age slow him down. As a matter of fact, he routinely spends time visiting others younger than he is at area senior living facilities and activity centers.
“At Laurel Baye (Healthcare), I visit to have devotions with the patients and also lead Bible study at the (Orangeburg County Council on Aging) senior center,” Walker said during an interview at the home of his son and daughter-in-law, Herman and Elizabeth Walker.
Walker said he’s not revealing his “secret” to longevity, but singing and praying as he does throughout the day certainly couldn’t hurt.
“Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night feeling like singing. I’ve just got to sing all times of the day,” he said.
Walker retired 30 years ago at age 74 after more than two decades with U.S. Plywood. Even then, he picked up some part-time work.
Walker’s drive to excel began at an early age.
He attended the “country school” in the “Cordova section,” Walker said, and then he attended the historic Dunton Memorial School in Orangeburg for two years.
He was about 12 and had just completed fifth grade at Dunton Memorial when his father decided to, as Walker described it, “hire me out” for farm work. His wages: 40 cents and dinner each day.
He plowed with a mule and was responsible for planting and harvesting cotton, corn, sweet potatoes, oats, wheat and barley, he recalled.
In his early farming years, Walker worked for Clifford Sanders. Later he farmed for Margaret Fairey, a teacher in Cordova. Fairey operated the farm for her brother, Owens Jennings.
In 1927, Walker married Ola Mae Harvey and they had five children. He continued farming, and in 1952, he began working at U.S. Plywood.
His wife passed away in 1992. After her death, Walker, then in his 80s, became ill and went to stay with his daughter and son-in-law in North Carolina.
“I got sick with the shingles, and nothing that the doctor did would look like it would help me,” Walker said. “I had shingles all over my back.”
During the course of his visit in North Carolina, his daughter and son-in-law encouraged him to attend an evening church service with them.
Walker declined their invitation, “I was sick and felt so bad,” he said.
Yet, the moment they left the house, he was overcome with fear and believed that when the pair returned, they would find he had succumbed to his illness.
“Yet, when they came back, I found that I was still alive,” Walker said.
He said it was a turning point for him. He soon began to feel better and ultimately returned to Orangeburg County after his recuperation.
Walker said he knows how seniors feel during trying times. He looks forward to each opportunity he has to encourage others by leading them in singing and prayer, he said.
His philosophy about life: “Treat everybody right. And do unto others as you wish others to do to you.”
In addition to five children, Walker has 19 grandchildren, several great-grandchildren and a great-great-grandchild.
Walker is an active member of Pine Grove Missionary Baptist Church, where he says he can be found every Sunday.
Information from: The Times & Democrat, http://www.timesanddemocrat.com