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Levy County centenarian says her life has been full

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By Carolyn Ten Broeck

After a quick adjustment, and then another, on the piano bench, Amelia Erwin leaned forward to pore over a sheaf of music.
“No, I don’t think I can play that one,” she said to the visitor, casting the pages aside and rifling through another stack.

Hands poised over the keyboard, she struck a chord, picked up the music and proclaimed, “Not that one. I haven’t played in a while.”
Finally, with help from the visitor and an audible “Lord, let me play this one,”  the strains of “I’ve Got a Mansion” filled the living room.
After a verse and chorus of the Southern gospel hymn, she smiled broadly as applause erupted.
“I used to sing alto,” she confided.
As Erwin entertained guests Tuesday morning, one couldn’t help but think it should have been the guests serenading her. After all, it was the day of her 100th birthday.
Her life is rich in history. She was one of  eight children born to William Wofford Ellzey, of the pioneering family that settled the area, and Lillie Jane Williams Ellzey.
Her great-grandfather, the circuit riding preacher R.M. Ellzey, founded and built the  Ellzey Methodist Church, where she grew up.  
Among her many memories are the years she spent helping her uncle with his homemade casket business.
It was the young girl’s responsibility to pad the caskets with Spanish moss and sew in the linings. And on more than one occasion, she was the quality assurance inspector.
“I’ve been in many a casket,” she said, remembering times when she climbed in to ensure a casket was sturdy, comfortable and ready.
In 1930, after graduation from Bronson High School, she married Louis Thomas Erwin at the Alachua County Courthouse. Her husband died when he was 42, leaving her with their four small children, Margie, Wofford, Bobby and Tommy.
Undaunted, she spent the next three decades providing for her children and helped ensure the futures of hundreds of other children as a teacher.
“I wanted to be a teacher all my life,” she said Tuesday. “I love school, and I love children. I love to see a child progress. I like to encourage children and to build them up to do all they are capable of.”
The inquisitive minds of her students also forced her to be a lifelong student. “They kept me studying,” she said.
And so she taught at Ellzey, Cedar Key, Chiefland and Otter Creek schools while earning a master’s degree in education from the University of Florida in 1952.
In 1951, she was offered a teaching position at San Jose Elementary in Jacksonville. The move also gave her sons athletic opportunities she felt were critical to their lives.
By 1957, she was principal of  Cedar Hill Elementary, where she stayed until her father became ill in 1968, and she returned to Levy County.
She was principal at Williston Elementary for one year and then became principal of Williston Middle School until her retirement in 1976.
Bobbie Smith, a longtime friend and prayer partner, said those years in Williston came at a key time. The vocational school had burned, Smith said, and Erwin was chosen to lead the integration transition because of her marvelous relationships with both parents and students.
That has held true for almost everything she has done in the last 100 years.
In addition to her 33 years in public education, she spent many years as a Sunday School Teacher, director of the Junior Church at Hendricks Memorial Methodist Church in Jacksonville and has a Sunday School Class named for her at Williston United Methodist Church.
She is a past Matron of the Otter Creek Order of Eastern Star, a member of the Retired Teachers Association and a member of the Gamma Iota Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma.
In addition to her children (son Tommy is deceased), Erwin has 12 grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren.
Pausing to remember how many siblings she once had, she looked a bit amazed when she realized, “I’m the only one still hanging around.”
The secret to her longevity?
“I was always doing something,” she said. “You have to be. And you have to be praying.”
“We have a lot of prayer in this house,” said her live-in-companion Regina Ast, who has  been with Erwin since a bout of pneumonia sidelined her about 18 months ago.
Upon  rising, Erwin gets fully dressed, eager to meet the new day.
“I enjoy dressing up,” she said. “God expects you to look nice and be nice.”
 Prayer starts her day before settling into coffee and the newspaper over breakfast. And then more prayer follows when throughout the day she prays for her children, grandchildren, church, friends and city.
Some days are spent watching TBN, others are spent meandering through Walgreen’s and Dollar General or enjoying lunch out.
“I’ll tell you what I like to do,” she said, eyes mischievous. “I like to fish. I can catch them. I enjoy the water.”
She thrives on visitors and enjoys having company.
“I just love people. I love to talk. I always ask people, ‘Are you satisfied with your life? Is there anything you would change?’”
What about her? Is she satisfied with her life?
“My life was full,” she said. “I am satisfied. I’ve never thought about my age. I’ve  always wanted to be the best. The Lord has been good to me.”

 

 Amelia E. Erwin will be honored Sunday, Oct. 9 with a celebration of her 100th birthday at the First United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall in Williston from 3-5  p.m.
  All former students, colleagues, family and friends are invited to the reception.