For Jean Presley of Morrisburg, celebrating her 100th birthday on Sunday, at the Legion in Morrisburg, was a very special event. What made it even more special was that she celebrated it with a large gathering of family and friends.
“I got through it fine,” said Jean from her Morrisburg home on Monday morning, as she awaited the arrival of her lunch from the local Meals on Wheels program.
Born on April 18, 1916, Jean was the daughter of John and Annie (nee Beach) McNairn. She was one of seven children, five girls and two boys.
She married Leslie (Les) Presley in 1936, and they had one daughter, Lynn, who was the chief planner of Sunday’s gala birthday celebration.
“The Presleys lived three concessions east of our home, so we saw each other at ball games and Christmas entertainment, that sort of thing,” says Jean of meeting her husband, Les.
Looking back over the last 100 years, Jean says she has many wonderful memories, but there were some tough times.
In particular, she recalls the hardship of the 1930s and later in the 1950s, the upheaval created locally by the Seaway project.
“I was a teenager in the 30s. We were lucky, we lived on a farm and could grow our own food. There wasn’t much money.”
Jean recalls helping out on the farm as a youngster. She drove the horse, while her father threw the hay on the wagon. Part of farm life for the women was their sewing, quilting and knitting, skills that would serve Jean well after Les passed away.
After her marriage to Les, life changed for Jean as Les, a “cheesemaker” searched out work.
“He worked for Edwards at Aultsville, for awhile, and then he got a job at Forrester Falls. He worked in the butter end there.”
“In 1946, we got word that the Morrisburg Dairy was for sale. It was an old established dairy, and we bought it. Everyone gathered up our spare money, and we got it.”
And together the Presley brothers Les and Hank with their families, ran the very successful Morrisburg Dairy business.
Due to the purchase of the dairy, Les and Jean moved to Morrisburg (the old town) and rented their home located two houses from the dairy.
“When we left Forrester Hills, we were paying $5 a month rent. When we got to Morrisburg, the Seaway was on everyone’s mind, and we paid $15 a month. It went to $20 and then to $25. Finally, when the Seaway was going to go ahead our rent was raised to $60.”
“That’s when I told Les it would be cheaper to own our own house. So we came here. [Her home in west end Morrisburg] This was a cow pasture and Union was going to build houses. We ordered a certain lot, the one we are sitting on right now, and in 1956, we moved in here.”
The Morrisburg Dairy was a family operation, and Jean helped out. She recalls fondly, how she helped Les make ice cream. She also scooped thousands of cones before the business was sold to Smith Dairy in Brockville, in the 1960s.
Jean credits her longevity to hard work and healthy living. She didn’t smoke. “In my young days, I tried it but I didn’t like it,” and she wasn’t much of a drinker ”they poured me a bit of wine at the party on Sunday, and it lasted me the afternoon.”
When Less passed away, “I wasn’t getting the pension yet, so I started quilting. I quilted for $25, and when I think back now, I think they were worth a lot more.”
In addition to quilting, Jean crocheted and knitted pieces that she sold for extra money. Her work included needlepoint and eventually art. “I seemed to always want to be doing something.”
Jean drove until she was well into her 90s, and says that giving up her licence was very difficult.
“I drove all my life, and I would like to be driving yet. It’s scary you know when you see some white haired person out driving. But oh I miss it.”
At 100 years, she enjoys good health. However, her eyesight and hearing have declined and arthritis has forced her to stop sewing and to discontinue her after supper walks around the neighbourhood.
These days she watches her birds at the feeder at her front window, cares for her lovely collection of plants and tinkers around the house. When the weather is nice, she relaxes outdoors under her carport.
“I don’t watch TV. I have it on for my company, but my eyes won’t let me watch it steady. I look forward to getting my Leader each week to keep up with the news.”
“I never thought I would see the year 2000, let alone celebrate my 100th birthday. I will stay here as long as I can keep on going. I have home help that comes in and I get Meals on Wheels.”
“My girls help me out with the odd chores. My daughter Lynn comes often, and we do things. She takes me to my appointments and gets my groceries.”
Jean has one daughter Lynn (husband Don), and two grandchildren Angela who lives in Barrhaven with her husband Ron Ainger, and Jason with girlfriend Falyn Day, of Prescott. She has two great-grandsons and two great-stepgrandsons.
“I am lucky. I am really thankful to have everybody who helps me. I still do the odd little things for myself, but I miss seeing everyone. I am old-fashioned you know. I like to talk.”
And liking to talk, Jean was delighted to see and visit with so many friends and family at Sunday’s party.
“I knew there was going to be a party. I told Lynn a long time ago that I didn’t want surprises. So she talked to me about it, and I just let her fire ahead.”
“They did a great job, and we appreciate the cooperation we had from the Legion. I am thankful to everyone who helped with the party, and I am happy to have seen so many people yesterday. It was wonderful.”
“Some of my memories are gone, it wears out you know,” she adds with a nod of her head. “The wonderful part is that I managed to get here.”
And as the interview ends, she adds just one more small bit of information. “I got through it fine [the party]. I was still wound up when it was time to go bed. I woke up in the middle of the night and needed a drink.”
And so it was, a glass of buttermilk, which this newly crowned Centenarian, relies on to “fix a lot of things”.