The secret to living a long life may not be written in stone, but Ruth McAnally may have it all figured out. While trying to eat healthy and abstaining from cigarettes and alcohol may have helped her reach her 100th birthday, maintaining a positive attitude throughout life may also have a played quite the role over the last century.
McAnally, a longtime educator with the Johnson City School System, celebrated the milestone Wednesday among close friends and family at Appalachian Christian Village. While she might be 100, McAnally is just as sharp and witty as ever, as evidenced by her jovial spirit as she traveled around the room in her motorized wheelchair, greeting each and every person who wanted to share in the celebration.
“I’ve never been in this many pictures before in my life. I’ve never been 100 years old before either,” she said with a smile.
The party was thrown by Don and Clarinda Jeanes — the former president and first lady of Milligan College — who think of McAnally as part of their family. Since McAnally doesn’t have any children and her husband has passed away, the Jeaneses stepped in and more or less adopted McAnally into their family.
“Ruth is really funny. We started celebrating when she was 80, and she was taken back. She wouldn’t live to be 85, and then she wasn’t going to live to be 90, and so I told her we were having a big 100th birthday,” Clarinda Jeanes said.
Initially, McAnally didn’t want to do anything special, but after finding the perfect outfit to wear to celebrate her 100th birthday, she agreed and has been looking forward to it ever since she found out.
Although she knew a party was being held, McAnally didn’t know her birthday would bring in such a big crowd.
“Oh, it’s thrilling! I don’t want to be another 100, but I think being the first 100 makes it pretty nice,” she said with a hearty laugh. “I just had no idea that we were gonna do this much.”
McAnally was born and raised in Johnson City. Over the course of her storied life, she has experienced ups and downs, all while keeping a smile on her face. One of the constant driving forces in her life has been her love of education, even going back to when she was just a child.
“That’s all I wanted to ever do. Momma said I’d lure all the children in the neighborhood up and make them sit on the steps of the front porch, and I’d get out in front and be the leader,” she said.
Playing “school” paid off as McAnally graduated from East Tennessee State Teachers College, now East Tennessee State University, and went right into teaching elementary school in the early 1930s.
“There were lots of jobs available at that time, so I had no trouble getting a job in Johnson City schools, and I kept that job for 41 years,” she said.
Before retiring from the school system in 1973, McAnally went from being a teacher to a role as principal of both Stratton and Keystone elementary schools.
It was during her time as principal that she first met both her caretaker and close friend Jane Dixon and Clarinda Jeanes.
Dixon first met McAnally in 1967 when she started for her as a teacher’s assistant and later transferred with her when she moved from Keystone to Stratton.
“She’s been my second mother. My mom’s been gone for many years and she’s been my second mother, as well as my first principal that I worked under in the Johnson City School System,” Dixon said.
Dixon said McAnally has been the perfect example of someone who lives a good, clean life, and she’s proud to have been her friend for such a long time.
“We never imagined we would be together in that many years, and I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed knowing her and I hope I can live as good a clean life as she’s lived,” she said.
In addition to knowing McAnally through Stratton Elementary when she was a teacher, Clarinda Jeanes said she and Don got to know her even better through First Christian Church of Johnson City, where McAnally is the oldest member.
“She just is a wonderful example in her Christian faith, how she cares about other people, even down in the nursing wing. She’s just a delightful person to know,” she said.