Juanita Campbell is presented her cake celebrating her 110th birthday Wednesday. (Ron Campbell/ Johnson City Press)
ERWIN — The title of supercentenarian is one held by very few but, on Wednesday, Erwin resident Juanita Key Campbell was surrounded by friends and family as she marked this milestone.
Campbell celebrated her 110th birthday in the Unicoi County Memorial Hospital Long Term Care Unit, where she has resided for just less than a year. Other residents of the facility, hospital staff, and county officials and residents were on hand. On the table where a pair of colorful cakes awaited cutting sat an autographed picture of Mel Tillis, who sent it to Campbell for her birthday. “I’m Sorry” singer Brenda Lee also gave a rendition of “Happy Birthday” via telephone.
“This has been wonderful and I have enjoyed every minute of it,” Campbell said of the celebration, “especially seeing all these people that I haven’t seen for years.”
Campbell was born on Oct. 23, 1903, in Knoxville to William Clement Key and Mary Parthenia Pugh. In her youth, after traveling with her mother by train to Dayton, Ohio, to visit one of her siblings, Campbell witnessed history. She and her brother saw Orville and Wilbur Wright fly one of their planes.
She would later marry William Preston Campbell of Saltville, Va., and the couple would later settle in Erwin. William worked in the area as a mortician and funeral director for 50 years, while Juanita was a mother and housewife.
Juanita is the great-great-great granddaughter of national anthem author Francis Scott Key, who penned “The Star-Spangled Banner” in 1814 after the bombardment of Maryland’s Fort McHenry by the British during the War of 1812. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was adopted as the national anthem in 1931.
The significance of this kinship was not lost on Juanita. Francis Scott Key was a Baltimore-based attorney, and Juanita’s family still has the wax seal he used in his legal work.
During the Great Depression, Juanita provided food to homeless journeymen who used Erwin’s Clinchfield Railroad to travel throughout the region.
Juanita has been a member of the local women’s club and First Baptist Church. Even after her husband’s death in 1991, she continued to remain active, even driving herself around downtown Erwin until the age of 98. She remains a fan of the Atlanta Braves and University of Tennessee women’s basketball.
Although Juanita said she didn’t know the secret of longevity, her son, William Campbell Jr., may have let the cat out of the bag.
“She has a theory that she’s talked about at times, and that is ‘chocolate is good for you,’ ” he said.
Juanita said she never expected to live as long as she has, but she reiterated that she was enjoying the party.
“Everybody should experience this,” she said.