President Barack Obama, Congressman Danny K. Davis, state Representative LaShawn K. Ford and former alderman Ed Smith joined three Austin ladies in celebrating their 102nd and 103rd birthdays last Friday at Jackson Square Skilled Nursing and Living Center, 5130 W. Jackson in Chicago.
Ghema Darnell, 103, and Dottie Lee Turner and Grace Scarborough, both 102, were radiant as they received gifts and well wishes from more than 75 guests. President Obama sent each lady a beautiful photograph and personal birthday greeting signed by him and First Lady Michelle Obama. Dottie Turner, who actually voted for Obama, was reduced to tears when presented with the photograph and letter.
“I never thought I would see this in my lifetime,” Miss Dottie said, referring to the election of an African-American as president of the United States. “Then I remembered what my mother said: ‘Just pray for it, and wait, and it will happen,'” she added.
Miss Ghema, an avid reader, read her letter aloud to her adoring family and smiled for a photo holding Obama’s picture and letter. The ladies were also presented with a beautifully framed proclamation congratulating them on their birthdays from the United State Congress, signed by Congressman Davis.
Miss Grace, a little shy and mother of a large family, many of whom were present after traveling from out of town to be with her, spent much of her time holding the hand of her youngest son. One of Jackson Square’s newest residents, Grace said very little, but smiled lovingly as she enjoyed the more than 15 family members and guests she had sitting at two tables.
Davis, state Rep. Ford, and Ed Smith visited with the ladies and posed for pictures. Ford brought each lady a teddy bear and a single red rose. All three men recorded video greetings for the birthday ladies.
Several local clergymen, evangelists and community groups were also in attendance. The extraordinary and heartwarming afternoon included piano music, gospel songs, and a delicious lunch prepared by Jackson’s dietary staff. Each lady was presented with chocolate Hershey bars with their name, age, and “aged to perfection,” imprinted on the custom-made wrappers.
Activities Director Princess Johnson led the crowd in a sparkling apple cider toast, followed by the cutting of the birthday cake which bore all three ladies’ names and ages.
Although the party was part of Jackson Square’s resident activities, it was a community effort in that many local merchants donated goods toward0 the event.
“I started putting this together in August,” Johnson said. “I am just thrilled as to how everything turned out. Sam’s Club in Northlake donated the cake and others helped by making other generous donations,” she added.
Before departing, Davis told the ladies he would like to return and sit and talk with them about the history they have witnessed, and they have witnessed quite a bit of history.
They have seen women gain the right to vote, 1920; the signing of civil rights legislation, 1968; man’s walk on the moon, 1969; the election of 19 U.S. presidents; and five wars.
Smiling faces, considerable joy, and over 300 total years of living packed into one afternoon celebrating three extraordinary ladies.