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104-year-old continues to grow, but never grows old

POSTED: July 3, 2010 10:00 p.m.

Lois Barr at 104

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Lois Barr looks at her birthday cake with Lifeline coordinator Dianne Appling. Barr is celebrating her 104th birthday, and is the oldest subscriber to Lifeline services.

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BLAIRSVILLE — Lois Barr has some advice on life: Form healthy habits and be consistent. Those are key, she says, to longevity.
What qualifies Barr to give out her words of wisdom? After 104 years, what doesn’t?

On Tuesday Barr, a resident of Blairsville, celebrated her 104th birthday. Her only relatives are a few nieces and nephews scattered across Georgia, and her church family at First United Methodist in Blairsville. Remarkably, she has been living alone since her husband died in 1946.

At this point in her life, she says, every day she wakes up is a milestone. And a treat for those around her.

The tiny woman has a large presence when she enters a room. With a gentle touch, she commands authority and respect.

Barr was born June 29, 1906. She had three sisters and lived a simple farm life with her parents about 25 miles outside of Clayton. Her mother died when Barr was 13.

She remembers key moments that changed her life, but many memories have faded. She can’t recall the first moving picture she saw, but she vividly remembers hearing Franklin Roosevelt on the radio during his campaign for president.

The first car Barr rode in was a Model T Ford her father borrowed from a neighbor to take her to the doctor with an abscessed tooth. She and her sister sat in the rumble seat as they drove over a railroad track.

“I was afraid the train was coming, so I wanted them to hurry me across there,” Barr said.

Barr attended the academy at Piedmont College in Demorest at age 13. She enrolled late and was unable to secure a room in the dormitory, so another residence was set up just off campus for Barr and a few other girls.

That turned out to be fortunate; that year, the wooden dormitory burned. Barr recalls waking to the screams of the other children.

“It was the most moanful situation. We sat at our windows and saw the building burning,” said Barr.

Barr clearly remembers the name of a young girl who leapt to her death that night in an attempt to escape the fire.

Barr has seen so many changes to the area, it’s hard to keep track, she said. When she was a young girl, her father would take them across the Chattahoochee River in a horse and buggy.

Did she mention there were no bridges yet over the Chattahoochee?

“We had to heat bricks and wrap them in blankets and put them in the buggy to keep our feet warm. Course, they would get wet, too, when the river was so full of water. I screamed bloody murder crossin’ that river. They would tell me to look up at the sky. I looked holes in that sky,” said Barr.

Barr recalls her father coming home with news that World War I had ended. They didn’t own a radio or a telephone on the farm, so keeping up with the news wasn’t easy, she said.

“Two school teachers boarded at my home. The next morning, we were walking to school and one of them said ‘we’ll have a bonfire today’ as a celebration of the armistice,” she said. “...  So we had a bonfire to celebrate armistice, November 1918.”

Farm living didn’t stop Barr from accomplishing many things. She graduated from Piedmont College and taught high school English for seven years. She also was an assistant treasurer at Alabama College and an assistant to the president of Brenau College for a year.

For many years, Barr commuted to Atlanta to work for Frigidaire.

Barr and her husband married in 1936 and never had children. He was studying to enter seminary when he died of a heart ailment.
She says living alone has never bothered her, and she has surrounded herself with family and friends.

But recently, Barr acquired a new family in the form of emergency help. Lifeline, a Gainesville-based service affiliated with Northeast Georgia Medical Center, is now a mere press of a button away.

Until she was 101, she never considered getting such help, but a fall in the driveway changed her mind.

She still cooks her own meals, making biscuits in an iron skillet. Her house is decorated with handmade doilies and family photos. And her yard blooms with various flowers tended by neighbors.

Aside from daily catnaps, not much keeps Barr down. She has no major illnesses and has only been hospitalized twice. She attributes her good health to her positive outlook. Her smooth skin, she said, must be genetic.

And she’s never short on advice.

Barr said she has been thinking about the Great Depression lately and remembers how others were affected by joblessness.

“I was working during the first Depression period; I had a job and was paid regularly. I did not have a great salary, but it came regularly,” she said. “We didn’t know what the situation was. We didn’t realize the seriousness of the Depression.”

Her advice for surviving the current recession?

“Keep a good outlook. Do any kind of work offered to you whether it’s what you like or not. If you can get a job, take it.”

Hanging on the wall just below her doilies, a cross-stitched phrase sums up Barr’s life perfectly: “What grows never grows old.”



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