National Centenarian’s Day is observed annually on Sept. 22 to recognize and honor those who are 100 years of age or older. The day was originally proclaimed as an opportunity to listen to their life stories and learn from their wisdom.
This was the second time this year that Sycamore Springs has hosted a celebration for Fetzer. In December, the staff joined with family, friends and fellow residents to celebrate her 100th birthday.
At that celebration, Fetzer said there is some dispute as to whether her birthday was Jan. 1 or Jan. 2. She was born to Obes and Winnie Mae Shoopman of Campbell County. She said they were so poor that Winnie Mae’s father gave them an outbuilding he had recently built. That served as their home, and that was where Helen was born. Dr. Queener delivered her, and reported on the official birth record that she was born on Jan. 1, but some family members insisted she was born after midnight, making her birthdate Jan. 2.
She settled in Elizabethton with her husband, John, after World War II. She lived in the “first house on Siam Road” for most of the rest of her life before joining Sycamore Springs in 2016.
Fetzer said she has no secret for a long life, but knows you can only take your life one day at a time and live it as you should.
"I don't have any secrets, I just live it day by day. I just do what I have to do and do it right, and I read my Bible every day to see what the Lord tells me,” Fetzer told Lisa Zimmer, communications assistant for Sycamore Springs.
Fetzer told Zimmer that she believes this is the best advice she can offer the younger generations.
"Well, I think the younger generation's pretty smart. If they do the things they should do every day, they'll be OK,” Fetzer said.
She has always had a heart for the younger generations who have given her so much joy, Fetzer said, recalling how she devoted her career to public education.
“My first job was at the one-room school of Stoney Point in the Knox County system,” Fetzer said. “I was the only teacher, the principal and the custodian.” It was a challenging job for someone just a few years older than her eighth-graders. There were a total of 24 students in the school
Fetzer met her husband, who was her roommate’s brother, at Carson Newman College in 1937. They married in 1945 and had four children.
During World War II, she took the opportunity to help her country when the military allowed women volunteers to serve. Fetzer said she was affected by the number of students who were emotional over family members going to war in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. She knew she had to play a role in America’s struggle.
Fetzer credits her parents for having the most influence in her life.
“They were poor, but they found a way to feed us. They usually had a cow, and my daddy learned to keep bees and take care of them. They gave us honey and sweetness,” Fetzer said.
That kind of compassion has guided her throughout 100 years of giving back to her family, pupils and community.
"Mrs. Helen Fetzer is such a joy at Sycamore Springs. Her simplicity and elegance towards life is a light for all of us, and we are more than happy to honor her this Centenarian's Day,” Rhonda Mitchell, executive director of Sycamore Springs told Zimmer.
Lisa Zimmer, communications assistant for Sycamore Springs, contributed to this story.