FAIRHOPE, Alabama — Every year for the last 20 years, friends from Silverhill resident Kathryn Parmer’s quilting group have gotten together to celebrate her birthday.
About 10 years ago, a group of men from the Jubilee Shores Methodist Church began serenading Parmer with “Happy Birthday” on her special day.
“She is so gracious and always says we make a big fuss over her, but I think it’s something she’s come to expect and would be disappointed if we didn’t do it,” said Carol Dolan-Groebe, a member of the quilting group whose husband belongs to the men’s group.
So when her birthday rolled around this year on Tuesday, Nov. 3, even though they knew they would have to make some adjustments because of Coronavirus concerns and even though this year her birthday would fall on election day, Dolan-Groebe said they knew they had to do something special for Parmer because this year she celebrated her 100th birthday.
On Nov. 3, a group of about 20 friends gathered outside at Big Daddy’s restaurant on Fish River to celebrate and the men’s group once again treated Parmer to a special rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
“I love it,” Palmer said. “This is my family and I know this group of people would do anything for me and I would do anything for them.”
Born Nov. 3, 1920, Parmer was born on a farm in South Dakota before moving with her family to Wisconsin as a youth.
“We raised chickens and sold eggs to make ends meet,” she said. “We would walk to the country school in the snow where there were first through eighth grade all in one room.”
She remembers going through dust storms in South Dakota and the famine that followed, hitting hard against her family and others living in the region.
“The farmers would come by our house with their cattle on their way to the pit,” she said, recalling how the cattle were so emaciated from malnutrition that they would have to be euthanized.
She also recalled surviving a tornado with her family and how her father and her brother were caught in the barn and had to strap down in a concrete structure in order to survive.
“I went with my mother, brother and sister down into the cellar and we thought they were still outside,” she said. “It was a scary time.”
When she got older, she enlisted in the military serving as a nurse during World War II, ending up in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area of Minnesota following the war where she met and married her husband Lanier Parmer.
She followed her husband to Georgia, where he worked at a papermill and they raised three children, two girls and a boy.
The two would grow apart, however, eventually separating and Parmer ended up coming to Alabama where she would continue her nursing career before retiring from a hospital in Mobile at age 62.
After retirement, she would come to live on a small farm in Silverhill where she has lived the last 38 years.
“I love it here,” she said. “I don’t know what I would do without the people here.”
When asked what she thought of everything that is going on right now, she said, “The United States is in turmoil. We just have to set our hearts and trust in the Lord.”
She also said she thought it was fitting that her 100th birthday fell on Election Day, the year of the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote.
“That’s really something,” she said. “I think that’s quite an accomplishment.”
When asked if she had a secret to a long life she said, “Well, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke and I try to eat wholesome, hearty food.”