Family Stories: Cousin Ila Turns 114 Years Young!
Ila Arminda Stargel Sewell-Jones
Ila turns 114 on August 21, 2017
Ila (right) with her sisters Mabel (middle) and Cleo (left)… Note the picture Ila is holding in the photo above… this is one of her favorite photographs.
Ila Stargel Sewell-Jones is my 2nd cousin 2x removed per Ancestry’s calculations and I am so proud to call her my cousin; sure hope I share in her long-living Bryan genes! In just ten days, Ila will be turning 114 years and holds the record for “The Oldest Living Person” in the state of Georgia, and the second oldest living person in the United States; Delphine Gibson, of Pennsylvania, holds the record of the oldest by only three days, with them both born in 1903.
Chart used by Creative license of Wikipedia
Ila comes from a long line of long-living family members, but to date, it is SHE who is setting the record in our Bryan-Stargel family tree. Cousin Ila is a true “supercentenarian” at the present age of 113; any person living to the age of 110 is known as a supercentenarian and is only achieved by about one in every 1,000 centenarians.
I met cousin Ila in 2000 after corresponding with her since 1997… she was then 93 years old and widowed. This was a correspondence that relied strictly on “snail mail”… which often left me
impatiently waiting for her next letter; those letters are truly treasures!
Ila and I share a Civil War grandfather, Berrian Clark Bryan (1823-1923), who served in the Blue Ridge Rangers. B. C. Bryan, as he was mostly known, was Ila’s great-grandfather and my 3rd great grandfather. Our lines part there, with my line continuing with Berrian’s son William Madison Bryan (1849-1921) and her line continuing with B.C.’s daughter Sarah “Sallie” E. (Bryan) Stargel (1854-1951). When Sarah married Richard Remington Stargel in 1873 in Lumpkin County, she chose to remain in close proximity to her parents and built a log cabin just down the walking path on her father’s land.
Ila standing to the left of Berrian Clark Bryan (her great-great-grandfather) at Cane Creek School. Ila wearing a print dress with a large dark bow in hair… second row, 4th girl from left.
Nine children were born to the family of Sarah (Bryan) and Richard Remington. Son John Jones Stargel (1875-1957) also remained in the same area and built a two-room log cabin directly across from his parents. He married Georgia Jones in 1901 and had three daughters in that two-room log cabin. Ila Arminda Stargel was their firstborn (1903 – ), with Mabel Nora (1908-2002) arriving when Ila turned five, and later Dorothy Cleo (1910-2003) when Ila was seven years old. Living this close to her great-grandfather B. C. Bryan, afforded Ila the opportunity to spend time with him. She remembered him as a quiet and humble man and somewhat hard of hearing later in life, and always wondering if the bullet wound in the face, during the Civil War, attributed to that.
Family of Sarah (Bryan) and Richard Remington Stargel
It was Ila’s first letter to me that gave me the inkling of her personality. I had originally written to her sister Cleo, finding her name listed on a story submitted in the Heritage of Lumpkin County; a book I also contributed several Bryan stories too. In Ila’s letter to me, she wrote that she was answering for her sister Cleo… as she knew more than anyone on the Bryan’s! I knew I would enjoy writing her, but never thought I’d learn all I did; I first wrote on Ila in 2014 in my 52 Ancestors 52 Week Blog… of how I met Ila on a Georgia Backroad.
From my blog post…. 52 Ancestors 52 Week Blog: Ila Stargel Sewell Jones …. I felt both stunned and excited after reading Ila’s letter – realizing that what I actually was reading was information from someone who actually knew my Civil War grandfather. Ila’s letter left me speechless and wanting more. She was a lifeline to the past that gave me factual details of a life I never thought or dreamed of ever knowing. I now had a “living” person who could possibly answer questions about the past. I couldn’t write the questions down fast enough as I penned a letter back to her.
Ila’s second letter to me told about the funeral of Berrian Clark Bryan… It left me speechless… I couldn’t believe that I had met someone in my family that had a direct connection of actually knowing my 3rd great grandfather who fought in the Civil War. This was a “happy dance” moment, but no one to share with!
A drawing Ila sent me of where she lived and grew up
Together with Ila’s remembrances of where she once grew up, her son Ike pinpointed the Bryan lands with the help of Stargel cousins, still living in the area; soon permission was granted for us to walk in on the “old” Bryan lands near Cane Creek. Meeting Ila and walking in to find the old Bryan home-place of B. C. Bryan was the highlight of my day. We later visited Cane Creek Church afterward, which resulted in somewhat of a ghost story, making its way to the local newspaper. My walk into the Bryan lands and my experience at Cane Creek Church that day were written up in the Dahlonega Nugget by a local reporter… after being told about my ghostly-looking photos taken inside the church.
Ila attended Cane Creek School and at the age of sixteen, after completing ninth grade, she even began teaching a class. She went on to graduate in 1929 from the North Georgia College, right there in Dahlonega, and at some point worked at The Bank of Dahlonega, possibly before her teaching career began. After graduation, her first teaching job was in a one-room schoolhouse in Cane Creek… back to her roots to give back; she later left for a teaching at the Georgia School for the Deaf, followed by teaching jobs at various schools in North Georgia and Alabama, teaching subjects from math to physical education classes.
Ila is listed here in the 1928 North Georgia College Yearbook – Note her middle name was written here as Armenia vs the Arminda I found listed as such in a local newspaper article on her birthday. I tend to believe Arminda is correct, but both are names I haven’t seen before.
Ila married Paul Sewell in 1931 and had two sons, Ike and Paul Sewell. She and Paul continued to live and raise their sons in Georgia until Paul’s death in 1958. A few years later she remarried to Frank Jones, and moved around to Alabama, Texas, and California, but eventually moving back home to Georgia at age 88.
When I first made contact with Ila she was still living in her own home at age 93… she remained at home until around the age of 103. After it became that she needed a little extra help, Ila moved into an assisted living community close to her family. Even after reaching the age of 104, her sharp mind and wit were still there; she is quick to tell you that her longevity comes from her eating habits of avoiding sugary foods, staying physically active and the Bryan and Stargel genetics inherited from her ancestors.
While Ila now uses a wheelchair to get around, and her eyesight and hearing isn’t what it once was, she still remembers her childhood memories, and if she’s like my mom… she loves talking about them. Ila also enjoys writing poetry, which was one of her favorite things to do as a young girl.
Cousin Ila, I want to wish you your “best” Birthday ever this year as you celebrate with family and friends that will be visiting on your special day. Even though I can’t be there, I hope you’ll enjoy an extra bite of cake for me! I’ll be thinking of you as I watch the eclipse this year and remembering how your father walked with you on that starry night, on that hilltop, to watch Haley’s Comet.
In Ila’s own words… “I was seven years old in 1910, the year Haley’s comet was to be in view. My Dear Papa woke me, got a quilt, and we walked to a hill, sat on the quilt and waited for it to appear. Soon it lit up the sky. We could see the nucleus, coma, and beautiful shining tail… Since that night I’ve always enjoyed w watching the stars.”
In Looking back at all Cousin Ila has lived through just overwhelms me… living through so many important events that have shaped and changed this country. I wanted to share a few… but it quickly rolled into so much more, that I had to pick and choose… trying to pick events that might have intrigued her!
Just a sampling of the milestones Ila has lived through….
- Ila has lived through 19 sitting United States Presidents, with the first being Theodore Roosevelt in 1904, and the current Donald J. Trump.
- In 1906, Ila was just three years old and The San Francisco earthquake occurred.
- Ila turned 5 in 1908 – The tradition of dropping a ball in New York’s Times Square to signal the beginning of the New Year was inaugurated.
- Ila turned 7 and witnessed the 1910 passing of Haley’s Comet from a hilltop near her home with her father.
- Ila was 9 when the Girl Scouts began in 1912, first known as The American Girl Guides, forming in Savannah, GA; they changed their name the following year.
- Ila lived in a very secluded mountain town called Dahlonega, and if baseball news reached that area, then she might have known that Babe Ruth made his debut in 1914 in the major leagues… she would have been 11.
- January 25, 1915 – Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas A. Watson conducted the first telephone conversation between New York and San Francisco. Ila was 12 years old; I wonder if this new invention piqued her curiosity?
- 1917 – World War I began; what was the impact on her family? Ila was now 14 years old. Her father signed a WWI draft registration card, but being age 43 he was not selected to serve.
- 1918 – Airmail service began – the world was opening up for Ila at age 15.
- November 28, 1925 – The Grand Ole Opry transmitted its first radio broadcast. If Ila was like my mother, she loved radio, but not every family could afford to buy one, so they often gathered at a family or friend’s house who owned one.
- May 20, 1927 – Charles Lindbergh made the first non-stop transatlantic flight in history. Ila was 24 years old and living home; I’m sure she paid attention to this.
- 1928 – Mickey and Minnie Mouse on film with the short film, Plane Crazy. If Ila went to any movie houses at this time, she might have seen it. My mother often talked about going to the movies on Saturday nights.
- February 18, 1930 – American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh discovered the planet Pluto – Ila loved watching the stars, so I’m sure she was well aware of this at age 27!
- 1930 – Clarence Birdseye invented frozen food with his quick-freezing process. It would be many years later before Ia’s family owned a freezer.
- March 3, 1931 – The Star-Spangled Banner, by Francis Scott Key, is approved by President Hoover and Congress as the national anthem. As a teacher, I’m sure Ila was aware of this.
- August 14, 1935 – The Social Security Act was passed by Congress as part of the New Deal legislation and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It would begin payouts to retirees within two years. Little did she realize at that moment, of how many years she would collect Social Security!
- 1936 – Gone with the Wind was published by Margaret Mitchell. As a young woman of 33, and a teacher, I’m sure Ila had this book in her collection.
- December 7, 1941 – The attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii… the biggest event of the century that affected so many Americans. Ila was still a young 38, and I’m sure she was fearful for her family.
- December 30, 1953 – The first color television went on sale. How soon did Ila get a color TV? My father owned one in the middle 50’s due to him being a television repairman.
- October 14, 1962 – The Cuban Missile Crisis began; this was an event that everyone paid attention to.
- 1963 – President John F. Kennedy was assassinated… this touched everyone’s life and our country! Ila was 60 years old… I was 11 and remember it vividly.
- October 15, 1965 – The first public burning of a draft card occurs in protest to the Vietnam War; while Ila’s boys were too old for the draft, I’m sure she had family that concerned her.
- July 1, 1966 – Medicare, the government medical program for citizens over the age of 65, begins. Ila turned 62… she only had 3 more years before she could collect.
- July 20, 1969 – Neil Armstrong, United States astronaut, becomes the first man to set foot on the moon. Ila loved space, so I bet she was glued to the TV set for this one!
- 1971 – As Ila was a school teacher, I’m sure when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to desegregate the schools, it was of utmost interest to her.
- 1978 – Ila’s two sons were long born and by this time, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren she was enjoying… wonder what were her thoughts were on the first test-tube baby born?
- 1980 – The wreck of the Titanic was found… sunk by an iceberg in 1912 when Ila was only 9 years old.
- 1983 – As Ila was a fan of space, I’m sure she watched when astronaut Sally Ride became the first American woman to go into space. Ila was probably wishing it could be her!
- September 11, 2001 – The twin towers were hit by two jet airliners and collapsed… and over 3,000 killed. Another plane hit the Pentagon, and a fourth crashed in Pennsylvania. There was no American that wasn’t affected by this tragedy on American Soil!
- 2003 – The last war Ila witnesses, hopefully… President Bush invaded Iraq.
The last years have been more of a computer age, bringing the technology of the internet and where everyone owns a cell phone… so far from 1903 when Ila was born… born at home in a two-room log cabin by lamplight. No telephone, No radio, No TV, No internet, No cars, No cell phone and No Facebook! How would we survive today, without these things?
Cousin Ila you truly have seen it all!
God Bless You Cousin Ila…. and I wish you many more Birthdays!
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Update: Ila Stargel Sewell Jones passed away on Nov. 10, 2017… Cousin Ila it was my pleasure to have known you and I treasure that first meeting and all the letters you wrote me. And “yes” you were right… you did know the most about the Bryan’s!
© 2017, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved