Florence Elsie Nicholson Hunter, or “G.G.” to close friends and family members, has been saying her goal was to celebrate her 100th birthday.
G.G., formerly a Bearden resident, met her goal Thursday, July 13, when she celebrated with a dinner and then had a party Saturday, July 15, in Arbor Terrace Assisted Living and Memory Care in the Cedar Bluff area. Clayton Brewer, an Arbor Terrace resident, wrote a poem for the occasion.
Born the year World War I was raging in 1917, G.G. has lived through the Great Depression, World War II and was part of the generation that “created a lot of the benefits we enjoy today,” her daughter, Barbara Kelly, said.
G.G. attributed her long life to her health and eating sweets — lots of sweet potatoes, carrots and pies.
“She was very determined to be 100 years old,” Kelly said. “Pat [Patricia Edwards, G.G’s caregiver] helped her get to be 100 years old. She’s very caring and skilled.”
Kelly said her mother has always enjoyed good health.
“[G.G.’s] mother lived to be 90,” she said, adding her mother “came from a background of strong genes.”
G.G. lived through times when people went through adversity but found pleasure where they could and appreciates them, Kelly said.
“I think that’s a big part of living successfully,” she added.
“You don’t get to be 100 by being a sissy,” at Erin Parten, engagement director at Arbor Terrace. She added she believes G. G. has lived that long because of her strong will to live.
What gives G.G. the most pleasure is her love for animals and eating sweets, Barbara said.
In her younger days, she enjoyed visiting Coney Island in the summer and riding the Cyclone, which was once the world’s highest roller coaster, a proclamation from City of Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero stated.
Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, G.G. was born July 13, 1917, to Thomas Gilbert and Edna Van Der Mast Nicholson and had two brothers, Francis “Frankie” Nicholson and Thomas “Micky” Nicholson, the proclamation further stated.
G.G. married David Hunter and had three children: Barbara, who lives in Bearden with her husband, Richard Kelly, the late Joan Ellen Garza and David Thomas Hunter.
“She was caring. She took care of us all — not particularly a good cook,” Kelly said. “We lived close to my grandmother. My grandmother did most of the cooking. I learned from her.”
Most of her life G.G. worked in retail at Gimble’s Department Store, the same store featured in the movie “Miracle on 34th Street,” until she retired in 1979.
Hunter has three grandchildren — Louis Garza. David Garza, who still lives in Brooklyn, and Joan Del Hoyo.
“She was the best,” grandson David Garza, son of the late Joan Garza, said. “I had an exceptionally close relationship with G.G. We were fortunate to have her close. She helped take care of us and helped us out a lot. She was all the wonderful things that define a grandmother. She was a real important role model.
“I was fortunate to go to work with her for a while,” he added. “I would get to go into town. That was a real big deal.
“She was a source of stability.”
Her nickname G.G. is short for great-grandmother, which she earned when her first great-grandchild, Alexandra Garza, was born in 1992. She then had three more great-grandchildren: Louis Garza, Amanda Garza and Mia Del Hoyo.
“We were really fortunate to have her around and build a really special relationship,” Alexandra said. “She was so much fun. She taught me how to read when I was a child. She played imaginative games with us and played Barbies with me. We were blessed.”
David Garza said his grandmother also gave her children and grandchildren a legacy — education. G.G. graduated from high school in the 1930s, a time when girls usually did not graduate.
“I think it set the tone for her children to excel in school,” he said. That tone rang true for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well.
For example, Alexandra recently graduated with a Master’s degree in media management and Louis graduated from Duke University.
“Mother moved to Knoxville in 2001,” Kelly said. “She lived by herself until she broke her hip three-and-a-half years ago.”
G.G. resided in NHC while she rehabilitated and then moved into Arbor Terrace.
“We celebrate her birthday every year with a party with all the residents. This is a special year,” Kelly said.