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Reflections on a century of life: Johnson City's Mildred "Bibbie" Whetsel celebrates 100th birthday

October 21st, 2013 8:53 am by Jennifer Sprouse

Reflections on a century of life: Johnson City's Mildred "Bibbie" Whetsel celebrates 100th birthday

Mildred "Bibbie" Whetsel enjoys a hug with Noah Bootwell, 6, during her centennial birthday celebration Saturday at Carver Recreation Center (Dave Boyd/Johnson CIty Press)

In the year 1913, many influential figures of the Progressive Era were born, including Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks, Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, football coaching greats Vince Lombardi and Bear Bryant, and Olympic track star Jesse Owens.

That was also the year Mildred “Bibbie” Whetsell, of Johnson City, was born.

Born on Oct. 20, 1913, Whetsell will celebrate her 100th birthday today, a milestone which the centenarian seems to be taking in stride.

“I’m going to get up. I’m going to church,” she said Friday afternoon. 

Born in Erwin, Whetsell said she moved to Johnson City and attended Dunbar School.

Afterwards, she said she went straight into the work force. 

“(I worked) ever since I was big enough to know how to work. I worked in a private home, tended to children and whatever else they had me to do. I just worked. I got a job and just worked. I grew up learning how to work,” Whetsell said. 

When she decided to move on from domestic work, she said she got a job as a cook at her old stomping ground at the Dunbar School.

“I cooked down there at this school until they closed it,” Whetsell said. “My mama was a cook and my daddy, too, so I inherited it I guess. I love to cook. I always liked to be cooking. I was always a kitchen person. I liked to be in the kitchen and cooking. I cooked at Liggett’s Drug Store down here on Main Street for a while until they closed.”

Even today, she said she still rustles up baked goods for friends and fellow church members at Mount Olive Baptist Church, where she is an active member.

“I like to make cake and things. I have a sweet tooth,” Whetsell joked. “Most of the time I make ... carrot cake.

She said she also worked at the Bertha Ellis Girls Club, but said when they closed their doors “I just came here and sat down.”

Whetsell said there’s a lot she misses from years past, but said she was happy to learn so much over the years.

“It’s (Johnson City) changed quite a bit,” she said. “It’s not like it used to be. When I was coming up ... we didn’t have paved streets. (We) had the red clay. You would just walk in that red clay.”

She also recalled people walking and carrying water down the street, as well as meatless meals of beans and cornbread.

“I had a good time growing up,” Whetsell said. “I learned a lot. I bet there’s not six people up and down this street that can can a can of beans. I bet you they couldn’t. I know how to do all of that stuff.”

She said she did marry Malachi Whetsell, but the pair did not have any children.

On Thursday, Whetsell was honored with a proclamation from the city of Johnson City to start in the weekend celebration of her 100th birthday.

A birthday party was also thrown for her on Saturday evening at Carver Recreation Center.

Nowadays, Whetsell said she takes it pretty easy, “resting up from what I’ve done years ago.”

As for what’s next, she said she doesn’t have too many plans.

“God knows,” Whetsell said. “He’s the one who has kept me here, so He gets all the credit. I just hope that I’ll have many more (birthdays).”

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