News Archive

Week of Feb. 19, 2003

Former Pelzer resident may have been world’s oldest person
Sullens announces retirement from town


Former Pelzer resident may have been world’s oldest person

The recent death of an area native has generated amazing information and questions about the life of the remarkable centenarian.

Although her actual age is a bit of mystery, it appears that Mattie Lee Arnold Elrod Owens known to many as “Miss Mattie” may have been even older than most of her family thought. In fact, it is possible that she was the oldest person in the world.

Family members had thought that she was 117 years old. A letter from the Social Security Administration shows her date of birth as October 15, 1883 making her 119 years old when she died February 6 in Island Park, New York.

Guiness World Records lists Kamato Hongo, a woman who lives in Kogochima, Japan, as the world’s oldest person at the age of 115. Stuart Claxton, research manager for Guiness World Records, said that in compiling the records the company considers only people with birth certificates and other supporting documents.

Owens did not have any documentation since her native South Carolina did not start issuing birth certificates until 1915 according to Wade Dorsey of the state Department of Archives and History.

Whatever her true age, Owens was certainly one of the last offspring of a former slave in the United States. According to her daughter Imogene McKesson, 79, of Norfolk, Virginia, Owens was born on a farm in Greenville County to Elizabeth Arnold Washington who was the daughter of Rebecca and Jacob Arnold.

Owens often told her family of her hard work in the cotton fields. According to her grandson James Elrod, 60, of Long Beach, New York, she told about boiling and washing clothes, cooking on a hearth, and ironing with something pulled out of a fire.

Her granddaughter, Mattie Elrod of Williamston, says that although the family never really knew the actual date of her grandmother’s birth, they randomly chose June 19th as her birthday.

Elrod remembers her grandmother as a very soft spoken woman who never raised her voice. Elrod says that her father was very much like her grandmother. She recalls never hearing her father utter a word of profanity until she was about 20 years old.

Owens lived in a house which still stands on Old Pelzer Road in Pelzer. She met her first husband Kate Elrod at Welborn Funeral Home in Pelzer according to her granddaughter.

Baptized at the Shady Grove Baptist Church in Pelzer, she was a homemaker and the mother of four children. Area resident Wash Thurman said she was the first black woman to have a T model.

She worked for many years at the historic Pelzer Inn before moving to Long Beach, New York in 1947. A cousin who lived in New York convinced her to move for a better job opportunity. Her two sons and their families also eventually moved to New York.

Owens continued her remarkable life in New York. “She worked for my mother, my grandmother, and my aunt starting around 1950 until the mid 1960s,” said Long Beach City Council President Joel Crystal.

Crystal’s brothers include actor Billy Crystal and Hollywood producer Richard Crystal. “She was with us on all of the major holidays and was really a member of our extended family. She attended the bar mitzvah for each of us boys,” Crystal added.

According to her family, Owens drove a car until she was nearly 100, stopping only because of cataracts. She was also active past 100 in the Nurse Unit and Missionary Service at the Christian Light Missionary Baptist Church in Long Beach.

Owens was the subject of a news article in 1994 when the county wanted to send her to a nursing home because her home care was more expensive than institutional care. Owens’ family won the battle and kept her out of a nursing home until two years later when her health began to seriously decline according to family members.

Her funeral was held February 12 at her church in New York. A copy of her obituary appears in this week’s Journal.

Local family members are anxious to add facts to the information already existing about this extraordinary lady. Anyone who has questions, comments, or facts about Owens or her family may write to Mattie Elrod, P. O. Box 698, Williamston.

Sullens announces retirement from town

Williamston’s Street Supervisor Joe Sullens has announced his retirement from the town effective March 7.

Sullens says that he has enjoyed serving the people of Williamston. “I get a good feeling doing something beneficial to the people of the town,” he commented.

He added that none of the work would be possible without some fine town workers. Sullens currently supervises nine employees.

Sullens has worked with the town since 1989 and has seen many changes during his 13-year tenure.

Williamston’s growth with added subdivisions and apartments has presented a welcome challenge to Sullens and his department which handles garbage and trash pickup, recycling, demolition of dilapidated homes and buildings, and some road maintenance.

Looking to the future, Sullens hopes that the town will take a good look at the way things are done. The town would do well to develop a plan to rotate and replace equipment, he added. He agrees with the town council’s decision to review ordinances and their enforcement.

Mayor Phillip Clardy confirms that Sullens has been a tremendous asset to the town. “His work ethic cannot be questioned. Whatever needs to be done, he finds a way to do it. He will certainly be missed,” Clardy added.

Current plans for filling Sullens’ position involve promoting from within current personnel according to Clardy. A final decision should be made at the next town council meeting, he added.

Sullens has many retirement plans&ldots;so many that he will “never get it all done.” His face lights up as he talks about working with the Brotherhood at Beaverdam Baptist Church.

He hopes to make more mission trips with the group to Kentucky and Virginia. He also plans “to work in my garden and enjoy life.”

His wife Deanne will be retiring after 30 years as a teacher’s aide at Palmetto Middle School at the end of this school year.

The Sullens have two children. Their daughter Robin is a counselor with Safe Homes in Roebuck. Their son Barry lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana and teaches computer science.



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