Centenarian’s message: ‘be ready to help’ others

Last updated: January 17. 2014 5:47PM - 2336 Views
By Amanda Moss

Amanda Moss | Richmond County Daily JournalWilma Cunningham takes a big breath as she blows out the candle on the cake to mark her 107th birthday.
Amanda Moss | Richmond County Daily JournalWilma Cunningham takes a big breath as she blows out the candle on the cake to mark her 107th birthday.
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Amanda Moss


ABERDEEN — Not many people get the chance to celebrate making it all the way to 100, but Wilma Cunningham has gone beyond that by marking her 107th birthday.

Friday, the day before Cunningham’s birthday, family, friends and government officials gathered around North Carolina’s oldest resident.

Balloons and streamers decorated the conference room of Kingswood Nursing Center in Aberdeen as Cunningham entered the room filled with people. A crown was situated on top of her head indicating that she was indeed the birthday girl that everyone had come to see.

Robbie Ferral, mayor of Aberdeen, along with North Carolina House Rep. Jamie Boles, presented proclamations to honor Cunningham for her birthday, with Ferral declaring today to be Wilma Cunningham Day in the town of Aberdeen.

Bringing a bit more fun to the party, Cunningham’s long time friends Mike Barbera, 81, and Carol Barbera, 65, put on a show for her as they danced together for her amusement. She clapped along with the music until they grabbed her hand to join in with the dance. At that point she could only smile.

Her grandson, Thomas Cunningham, got up in front of the crowd to say a few words on the woman that raised him.

“My little Tommy,” Cunningham called out as Thomas made his way to the podium.

Thomas thought the secret behind Cunningham’s old age is her positive attitude.

“She has had quite a bit of negative things happen to her in her life,” Thomas said. “Her son was killed in 1954 after a plane crash and her daughter died of cancer before her.”

After the death of her son, Cunningham took on the task of raising two grandchildren.

“She is a role model to everyone,” said Jill Cunningham, Thomas’ wife.

Reba Morrison, cousin to Cunningham by marriage and friend of 50 years, stayed closely to Cunningham’s side as she mingled with all those that came to visit her.

“She’s real sneaky,” Morrison said with a laugh. “She told me that she needed a ride down to see her cousin because he was sick, but he really wasn’t sick at all. She wanted to introduce us and we ended up married.”

Cunningham was thrilled as she glanced around the room. When asked what was the secret to her long life she simply said it was her Christian faith.

“It’s been a wonderful life,” Cunningham said. “And I’ll be around next year.”

Cunningham took the time to tell everyone her very first memory. She was 4 years old and on a train to Lexington. Her mother had forgotten to give her a train ticket, and she could only panic as the man came around checking for tickets.

All she could think was that he was going to put her off the train, but the man told her not worry.

“He was ready to help me, and that’s the way you all should be too,” Cunningham said. “You should be ready to help.”

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