Edith Reese gave her family a reason to celebrate this past weekend.
Nearly 40 family members and friends gathered at the Leah home Reese grew up in on May 25 to celebrate her 107th birthday.
“I’m feeling fine,” said Reese, who was born May 23, 1906.
Reese’s vision and hearing are deteriorating, but otherwise she’s in good health and takes no daily medication other than a vitamin, said her niece, Marcia Harden, of Thomson.
Her home was decorated with balloons and banners, and birthday cards are displayed on just about every flat surface in the home.
Family members have gathered for Reese’s birthday every year since her 90th, which was the last surprise party they organized for her.
“Her 90th birthday was a surprise and we had to ask God for forgiveness for all the lies we told,” Harden said.
Reese lives in the family home where she grew up, on Washington Road in the heart of the Leah community. She moved into the house with her family from a nearby house when she was 3.
The property looks much like it did when Reese was a child. She said she hasn’t seen many changes to the quaint community, other than the paving of roads.
“It hasn’t changed a bit,” said Reese. “It seems very much the same.”
Reese isn’t the oldest Columbia County resident; Sue Whiddon, of Harlem, is 108.
Reese is the second of nine children of Jabez Sanford Hardin, for whom the Jabez Sanford Hardin Performing Arts Center at the Columbia County Library is named. She, like her father – who was former superintendent of Columbia County schools – was an educator. She retired after more than 40 years as a teacher.
“I bet she was a fun teacher,” said her niece Lynn Duncan, who is one of many educators in the family.
Reese has outlived all of her siblings except the youngest, John Hardin, who lives in New York.
One of her secrets to longevity and happiness, Reese said, is, “I keep the bad things away with my big old foot.”
Harden said her aunt used to say, “I like to go to church even though I can’t hear. But I’ll show the devil whose side I’m on.”
Soda might be Reese’s only vice.
“She has consumed two liters of Coca-Cola as long as I can remember, every single day,” Harden said. “We never, ever run out of Coca-Cola.”
Reese also is a breast cancer survivor, Duncan said. She had a mastectomy at age 29 in 1935.
She attended Damascus Baptist Church in Appling for most of her life until she became homebound several years ago. Reese also played piano at the church for many years.
“It was a long time,” Reese said. “There wasn’t anybody else to do it.”
Three caregivers help provide for Reese’s daily needs. Teresa Bennett said she started spending weekdays with Reese nearly a year ago.
“She’s a handful,” Bennett said of the sassy and sometimes feisty lady. “It’s inspiring, it really is. I tell her all the time that she’s an inspiration.”
Bennett gets to enjoy Reese’s many stories of days past.
“Lots of them,” Bennett said. “I enjoy every one of them.”
Reese will be the first to tell you she was a fast runner as a child, the fastest runner at her school. But Reese said she got tired of always being in the lead.
“So I got where I kind of slowed my run down a little bit so I could catch up to somebody and pass them,” Reese said. “And that’s what I’d do. ... I’d start singing when I’d pass them.”
Harden said a family friend lived to 114 and the very competitive Reese said she plans to top that age.
“She always said, ‘I’m going to outlive her by three years,’” Harden said. “We laugh about who will care for her when the rest of us are gone.”