|Gladys Shults celebrates a life well
December 20, 2003 FARMINGTON - When Gladys Shults celebrated her birthday, members of the youth Sunday School class she taught were among the guests.
Of course, they're in their 80's now.
And Mrs. Shults turned 102 on Dec. 20.
"I'm just 101," she said sweetly as she corrected her daughter. "Don't make me any older than I am."
"No, Mother, you were born in 1901," her daughter responded. "You're just trying to be younger than you are. You're 102."
Nancy Lynch of Park Hills, is the youngest of Mrs. Shults' two daughters, born when her mother was just shy of 40.
A petite woman with a quick smile and a soft, easy laugh, Gladys Shults was born on a farm between Bourbon and Sullivan on a night her parents said was 20 below Zero outside.
"They were just starting to build the railroad there when I was born," she said. "My father came to Missouri from Illinois. He was from New York. My father and another man built the house I was born in. Daddy had had polio when he was little and couldn't use his left arm, but they hauled in the lumber and built it. It was three rooms. My mother and he were married there and I was born there."
A deep man of faith, Erwin Page and his wife Nettie made sure their only child knew the Bible.
"Every morning and every night my father read to us from the Bible. Then we would get down on our knees to pray. If I brought kids home with me from school, they did it, too. That was just something our family did. The book of Jeremiah was Daddy's favorite."
Mrs. Shults continued the Bible readings with her own children. And she taught them to pray.
"The prayer she taught us is the same one her daddy taught her, I think," said Nancy as she recited, "Thank you God for taking care of me and those I love today. Tomorrow, help me to be kind and brave in all I say and do. Amen."
One of Nancy's favorite stories is about the time her mother didn't make it to church. Mrs. Shults started to giggle as she prepared to tell it.
"The Methodist Church in Bourbon always had a supper in August with homemade ice cream. I was supposed to recite a poem. Well, we had company and Mother didn't want to go to church, but the little girl and I wanted to go. Mother had made me a new white dress. We rode - the three of us - in a buggy pulled by a horse. And halfway there, we had to cross a creek. All of a sudden, the horse 'had to go' and he 'went' all over us!"
She laughed and added, "We didn't get to the party and I never got to say my poem."
At 17, she got her first job teaching school. She rode a horse to work and rather than ride side-saddle, she made herself a split skirt so she could straddle the horse.
"It was war time (World War I) and they couldn't get anyone else, so they asked me. It was a one-room school house at Dowler Mill with 50 children - some of them were as big as I was."
If she could live her life over again, Mrs. Shults would return to the days when she and her husband Earl were first married.
"Mother and Daddy were just really in love," said Nancy. "I remember how he would twirl her around the kitchen in his arms." "He never missed a birthday or an anniversary," said Mrs. Shults. "I have a stack of cards over there he gave me. He was just a fine fellow."
Though deeply committed to their Christian faith, the Shultses weren't committed to the same church. And every Sunday morning they parted company.
"Daddy went to the American Baptist church and Mama went to the Methodist," Nancy explained. "And we took turns where we went on Sunday night. When I started playing the organ at the Methodist Church, Daddy would go to Sunday School at his church and then come over to the Methodist for worship to hear his daughter play."
Earl Shults died in 1991 at the age of 86. They were married 63 years.
"I don't know what made our marriage strong, but I guess all that Bible reading helped," said Gladys Shults.
As her children grew, she taught their Sunday School class at church.
"Mother made it interesting," said Nancy. "We would take the Bible and split up into groups and she would give us questions to look up."
"I came up with the questions on my own," said Mrs. Shults. "My goodness, I'd read the Bible every day of my life, I guess I should have known something to ask."
Always in good health, she lived on her own until she was 95 when a broken hip made it tough for her to get around. And so, for the first time in her life, she moved last year to Farmington's St. Francois Assisted Care Living Center. But she's still a member of the Sullivan church she attended for 83 years. A picture of Jesus like the one that once graced the wall of the church now hangs in her room, along with a picture of herself from 1902.
"Now my eyes are going and my ears are going, but the rest of me is okay," she said.
"My mother has always been my comfort," said Nancy, as tears welled up in her eyes. "Mother's the one I could always go to. We've always been very close. I loved to go fishing with my daddy, but my mother is my comforter."
For her mother's birthday celebration, Nancy drove to Sullivan to bring her friends to her mother's new home to help her celebrate. They lunched at her house before a party at St. Francois. Mrs. Shults is still getting birthday cards, but wasn't so sure anyone would want to read about her in the newspaper.
"I'm not sure you got what you came for," said Mrs. Shults as the reporter started to leave. "We talked a lot about church and the Bible."
Her daughter quickly added, " Mom, that's what you're about. It's tough to separate the two."
And mother and daughter smiled.
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