Zelpha Naylor has lived a simple life.
She has been strong in her faith and regularly attended church. She grew up on a farm and liked tending to a garden and canning what she grew. She liked going fishing and camping and traveling with her family.
She has always been a good eater, liked to cook and bake and hasn’t had to rely on medicine to keep her healthy. She also maintained jobs to earn money and make a good living.
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That simple way of living is attributed to her making it to age 109.
You read that right. Today, she is celebrating her 109th birthday.
"It’s just totally amazing. I have no words for it," said Brenda Beach, one of Naylor’s granddaughters who serves as a caretaker.
"When I go to the store and if I’m doing something, I’ll say, ‘Oh, I’m getting that for my grandma,’ and they’ll look at me and I’d say, ‘She’s going to be 109,’ and they are like, ‘What?’" Beach, 64, said. "I’m just so proud of her, and every time I say that, I can’t imagine it. It can’t sink in that she’s going to be 109."
Another granddaughter who helps take care of her, Carol Jines, 60, said the way Naylor has lived her life sets a great example.
"I think everybody has always looked up to Grandma because of her faith," Jines said.
"And as a young girl as I was learning to can and cook, she makes homemade bread, she taught me how to make it and I would call her up and say, ‘Grandma’ and have a question and she’s right there at the door to tell me how to get through it," she said. "She has always taken all of the kids fishing and taught them stuff and worked with them. I think she has really enjoyed her life."
Naylor was born in the Jefferson Proving Ground and later walked 2 miles every day to and from a one-room schoolhouse there with her siblings.
She then settled in the nearby small Ripley County town of Holton. She lived on a farm for 72 years just outside of town and has lived in her home in town for eight years.
When she married Perry Naylor, she worked to help support the family, which included their children, Ruth and Elmer. She worked at Montgomery’s creamery, the Holton school as a cook and Muscatatuck State Hospital as a housekeeper. She retired from the latter place in the 1970s.
"I worked and I made money," Naylor said.
After living through the Great Depression, Naylor didn’t like to waste food, so that’s why she grew a garden and canned vegetables.
"I remember as a kid going to her house and I didn’t want to eat her cooking because she made headcheese and this and that," Jines said, smiling. "She made her own ketchup, and we’re like, ‘We want the real kind of ketchup.’ She would tell us we need to learn to eat what we have because they went through where they didn’t have."
Naylor became known as "The Pie Lady" for her pie-baking skills. Several years ago, she sold them at the farmers market in Osgood.
"People caught onto what she was doing, so they would come over at 7:30 and it didn’t open until 8, so they would walk in there and get her pies," Beach said.
Naylor has always liked to eat. When recently asked what she wanted for dinner, she replied, "Just anything."
"She just eats and eats. She has always liked sweets and candy," Jines said.
Camping and fishing were her favorite pastimes.
"She took my family (camping) one time to Hardy Lake, and she had a big old green truck with a camper shell on it, and that’s where we stayed out there. We slept inside the truck camper," Jines said.
Beach recalled Naylor fishing at a pond a few years ago.
"I took her and drove right up to the pond and sat her in the chair, and she fished for 10 minutes and caught several," Beach said. "She says, ‘I’m ready to go home.’ I’d sit beside her and try, and I just didn’t have it."
Naylor loved to travel, too. She mostly went around the United States, but her only time out of the country was going to Jerusalem on her own in her 60s.
When asked what they credit to Naylor’s long life, Beach and Jines agreed on God and faith.
"She went to church way up until about a year ago," Jines said, noting Naylor attended the Methodist church in town.
Naylor also knows her hymns.
"She knows every word to the songs, and once in a while, I’ll just forget or mess up, and she’ll just pick up and go on," Beach said.
They also said their grandmother has never drank alcohol or smoked, doesn’t take any medicine and has been able to live on her own at home.
"She has been healthy, and she hasn’t had to take medicine. When you take medicine, it really messes you up one way or another," Beach said.
Even a doctor who started making house calls a year ago can’t find anything wrong with Naylor.
"He teases her that he’s trying to find something wrong with her," Jines said. "He’ll bring his little house bag and he’ll say, ‘We can’t find anything with that. Let’s try something else,’ and he says, ‘I just can’t find anything.’"
Naylor doesn’t watch much television. She prefers to sit inside her home or on her front porch and watch the traffic and trains go by.
She drove a car until she was 101 when she wrecked her Chevrolet Cavalier in a ditch.
"Nobody came to help her, so she got out on her own," Jines said.
"Her son hadn’t taken the keys yet. When he took the keys away, she was mad for two months," Beach said, smiling.
Jines and Beach remember celebrating their grandmother’s 99th birthday with a big dinner at the firehouse in town, and they had a big party with all kinds of food at the community center when she turned 100. More than 240 people attended the milestone celebration.
This year’s celebration will be different due to the COVID-19 pandemic preventing a gathering, so Naylor’s family has organized a drive-by event at 10 a.m. Saturday. People are invited to drive by her home at 7106 W. Versailles St. to wish her a happy birthday.
"We’re hoping that we can sit her in the doorway," Jines said.
People also are welcome to mail cards to Zelpha Naylor, P.O. Box 6, Holton, IN 47023. She already has received a stack of cards.
For recent birthdays, she received as many as 160 cards, some coming from other states. One time, she got one from Papua New Guinea.
"They heard her story and sent her a card," Jines said.
Naylor’s daughter died 13 years ago, but her son is 86, still lives in Holton and visits often. She has six grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren and 28 great-great-grandchildren. She also had four siblings.
Naylor is one of the few people still living who has been through two pandemics and two world wars.
"Whatever we were going through, she didn’t look back. She just looked forward," Beach said.
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Holton resident Zelpha Naylor turns 109 today.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic is preventing an in-person celebration, her family has organized a drive-by event at 10 a.m. Saturday. People are invited to drive by her home at 7106 W. Versailles St. to wish her a happy birthday.
People also can mail a card addressed to Zelpha Naylor, P.O. Box 6, Holton, IN 47023.