She can’t get to church anymore, but her Bible and Sunday school lesson were gathered close to her as she sat on the floral Queen Anne couch in her spotless Kings Point home earlier this week.
Edith Standefer, who will turn 100 years old in less than two weeks, is a member of a U.S. population that has roughly doubled in the past 20 years to around 72,000, according to the Census Bureau.
Unlike many centenarians, though, she lives in the same house she and her late husband built in 1929, has survived a robbery and beating that ultimately killed her sister, gets around with only a four-footed cane and has a memory for details that would put most people decades younger to shame.
“I’ve had sadness and joy in my life,” Standefer said.
A native of Dayton, Tenn., she said the first preacher she remembers rode up on a horse. Since church members didn’t have much money to pay him, he often rode away with a tow sack full of chickens, eggs and other donations.
Standefer said her Baptist baptism as a preteen came in a creek near Harrison, and she thinks about it each time she crosses South Chickamauga Creek near her home.
She is a charter member of Kings Point Baptist Church and, she figures, its oldest member.
The congregation began, Standefer said, some 50 years ago when residents started a daughter church of Oakwood Baptist. Her husband, Leon, and another member went to the owner of a beer joint and hot-dog stand, she said, and negotiated to buy the property.
Thereafter, she said, the church “started in a beer joint.”
Standefer said maintaining her faith has sustained her through her husband’s death in 1963 (she was feeding him ice cream when he died), through the robbery and beating at her sister’s East Chattanooga home (no one was ever charged) and through the deaths of so many close relatives (one of her three daughters died last year and two nephews died earlier this week).
“It had to,” she said. “That’s all you can do.”
While in the hospital after the beating, which broke her hip, Standefer said, a nurse told her that her injured sister was so sweet in praying that God would forgive the man who robbed them. Standefer, on the other hand, said she was praying for the perpetrator to be caught.
Her pastor, she said, later told her both prayers were all right.
Throughout, Standefer has not bewailed her plight but has done what was necessary to get by. At points in her life, she sought to get a job — “I thought the roof was going to come off” — and eventually did get one. She made all her children’s clothes, sewed for other women and even made one of her daughters’ wedding dress — “it was my first and last.”
She still cooks for herself, and baked treats such as pies or banana bread are often waiting for family members, said her grandson’s wife, Jane Grant.
Indeed, Standefer was taken aback recently when someone asked her who did her cooking.
“Well, I do,” she told them.
The diminutive centenarian-to-be also does her laundry and even does some of her cleaning.
“You could eat off the floors,” Grant said.
Standefer, who has seven grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren in addition to her three daughters, said she attributes her long life to hard work and a good diet.
The diet, she said, is a balance of red meat, a green vegetable and starches.
Trips to the doctor and to the hairdresser are Standefer’s main outings, but she is no recluse. Family, her pastor and neighbors for whom she saves the daily newspaper are frequent visitors, and the medical-alert button almost always around her neck means help is only a touch away.
“I never dreamed I’d outlive [one of] my children,” she said. “I didn’t want to.
Yet, Standefer said, “I’ve been able, with the Lord’s help, to hold up through it all.”
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...