Oftentimes when someone turns 100 years old in the U.S., they receive a letter from the president, congratulating them on their longevity.
For most of Amy McGuire’s life, she said her grandmother, Hazel Cofer, would mention her plans to receive this recognition, then “head home.”
Cofer became a centenarian on Monday, April 19. McGuire said she recently shared the news with her grandmother about the soon-to-arrive letter.
“She told me, ‘Just tell him to keep it,’” McGuire said with a laugh. “That told me she’s not through living. She’s not ready to ‘head home’ to heaven.”
McGuire said her grandmother has found a new purpose, despite suffering from dementia. In 2019, Cofer went to live at Ashton Senior Living in Gainesville, then recently moved to the Oaks at Braselton to be closer to family members.
McGuire said sending her grandmother to stay at a memory care facility was one of the hardest decisions she has ever made.
“I thought about how those people would care for my grandmother, but never thought about how my grandmother would care for them,” she said.
McGuire added that if Cofer had remained with family members, she would’ve lived out her life as a hidden treasure. Now that she’s at the Oaks, Cofer has been able to not only brighten the lives of her neighbors, but those who work at the memory care unit. Even at 100, McGuire said her grandmother continues to make friends and liven the atmosphere.
“She’s like a breath of fresh air,” Erika Fenley, the facility’s wellness director, said. “She brings a smile to everybody’s face. They love being around her. She just always has a sunny disposition.”
On Sunday, April 18, former and current staff at both the Oaks and Ashton Senior Living, as well as Cofer’s family and friends celebrated her 100th birthday. Fenley shared that those who’ve helped take care of the centenarian wore corsages with a button that read, “Hazel’s hero.”
“They (Oaks staff) did everything they could to allow us to celebrate and interact,” McGuire said. “They couldn’t have been more accommodating. They are truly committed to continuing a good quality of life.”
Cofer, who grew up in Flowery Branch and Atlanta, has three daughters, seven grandchildren, 11 great grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren with another on the way.
Jackie Kirkley, one of Cofer’s daughters, said her father died from injuries in a car accident before she and her sisters reached adulthood. At 37 years old, Cofer became a widow and went on to raise her three girls on her own.
To this day, Cofer has never remarried.
“She said it would never be fair to anybody else because her heart would never belong to anybody else,” McGuired said.
To keep her family afloat, Cofer worked in an administrative role with the Georgia State Patrol. She later worked at Georgia Regional Hospital where she would eventually become its director for patient accounts.
While juggling her busy career, Cofer still made time for her family.
“She is the strongest woman I have ever had the pleasure to know,” Kirkley said. “She’s one of the finest women you’ll ever meet. She raised the three of us, and we all turned out pretty good. I think we’re a testament to her.”
Kirkley said her mother is the oldest living member of Union Baptist Church in Flowery Branch. She shared that Cofer’s ancestors, on her mother’s side of the family, helped start the church in 1864 during the Civil War.
“My grandmother (Gussie Ann Deaton) was proud to say that her grandfather gave the lumber and the land to build that church,” Kirkley recounted. “She was always proud of that fact.”
Kirkley has been an active member of the church for nearly two decades, and her husband, who died 15 months ago, is buried at the property’s cemetery.
In addition to her love of God, Kirkley said her 100-year-old mother has always held a passion for gardening.
“She could grow hydrangeas with blooms as big as a water bucket,” she said. “She could grow anything.”
Although Cofer no longer has a garden, her family has shared that she enjoys tending to her relationships at The Oaks and eating ice cream on a regular basis.
When asked by Fenley what advice she would give to others, the centenarian replied with, “My mom said you should eat dessert first, and she was a smart and sweet lady.”