The stack of envelopes on Frances Haynes’ sitting room table was large — maybe as much mail as an average person would receive in a year.
But the envelopes were not bills or notices. They were birthday cards, wishing the former Hall County educator and administrator well on a far less-than-average milestone: her 100th birthday, which was Wednesday.
“I received all those cards, and I said ‘My goodness alive, it pays to be 100,’” Haynes said. “I guess everybody doesn’t live to be 100, but more and more people are living to 100 and over. I see it in the paper every once in a while.”
One well-wisher especially touched the former Candler Street School teacher. The card was from a former student whom every teacher once deemed “as kind of a holy terror.”
In the card, the man recounts how as a child he was punished almost every day in school until he was in sixth grade, when he was placed in Haynes’ classroom and care. Haynes immediately put her arm around the boy and made him feel welcome, something he hasn’t forgotten even now as an adult.
“He said ‘Miss Miller, you were kind to me, and made me feel welcome,’” Haynes said. “He said ‘I’ve never been punished again in school, and I’d say absolutely you are the cause of me being where I am.’”
The former student enclosed a business card identifying himself as a local government official in Gadsden, Ala.
“I sat there and read (his card) and cried and cried, because it touched me so much,” Haynes said.
The former student is not the only one who has seen the 100-year-old woman as a role model.
“(Haynes) is a model of how to age gracefully and graciously and with enthusiasm and vigor,” said April Bell, a member of the Azalea Garden Club, of which Haynes is still an active member. “She is just who I want to be as I age.”
Haynes became a charter member of the garden club when her next-door neighbor invited her to join in 1941.
“I didn’t know anything about gardening, but I joined her garden club and I have loved it ever since,” she said.
In fact, Haynes drives herself to Azalea Garden Club meetings and drives in her bridge club’s carpool, despite her centenarian status. She also has read “several books” since Christmas, keeping herself more mentally sharp than many people half her age.
She easily recalls what it was like to watch Gainesville — and the world — change over the past century.
“It has changed drastically,” she said. “I used to know nearly everybody here, and now if I go to town or something and walk around I don’t see a soul I know. It’s just so many strangers. That’s how much it’s changed.”
A Gainesville resident since 1940, Haynes was born in Oglethorpe County in 1914. The youngest of three girls, Haynes and her siblings grew up to be schoolteachers.
Haynes taught her first class of first-graders when she was just 17, at a one-room schoolhouse in Millen. After graduating from the University of Georgia, Haynes moved to Gainesville in 1940 when she married Johnny Miller, who later died.
Haynes began teaching in Gainesville at Main Street School before moving to Candler Street School, to which she would devote most of her career. Haynes taught sixth grade at Candler Street until 1954 when she became principal, serving in that position until 1962.
The Georgia native then was promoted to the assistant superintendent of the Hall County school system. It is a post she held until 1970.
While Haynes never had her own children, she married Joe Haynes in 1993 and inherited his children and family. Now Haynes lives with her late husband’s son and his wife in Gainesville.
The same son purchased her the scooter she uses to travel around her yard behind Ned Jackson, a former custodian at Candler Street School, who helps her with her garden. Because of her age, she is no longer able to fully tend to her plants.
“That’s what I miss most, that I can’t get out and work in the yard,” Haynes said. “I love flowers, of course, and I love children. They come first.”
But Haynes is quick to assert her list of complaints is small as she sits among several birthday bouquets. The enthusiasm with which she has approached her long life is an inspiration to those who know her, whether from her work in education, bridge club, gardening or First Baptist Church, where she has been an active member since 1940.
Nita Baker, another Azalea Garden Club member, is especially impressed by Haynes’ alertness, considering Haynes was her elementary school principal.
“We were at a benefit for the Elks Education Fund, and (Haynes) bid a grand slam and made it in bridge,” Baker said. “She’s very active, and not just for somebody her age. (Haynes) is very active and just a kind, sweet person. She would do anything for you that she could.”
Haynes reiterated that same statement upon offering advice on living a long life.
“You’ve just got to realize that all of us are human, and we all need to have a little kindness shown to us,” she said. “All I can say is just be kind to people and love people and help them when you can.”