Family, friends and fellow residents of Heritage Woods of Chicago, an assisted living community located at 2800 W. Fulton St, piled into the activity room for a birthday party last Wednesday. Birthdays come and go, but this one was special — the 105th for Le’Etter Bryant.
Born in Holly Grove, Ark., on Jan. 15, 1913, Bryant first visited Chicago in the mid-1930s. Her late husband was a bricklayer and they moved to keep up with his work — Alaska, Seattle, Las Vegas — before finally settling down around 1960 on the South Side Chicago.
Bryant did hair and worked as a waitress, according to her daughter Dorothy Richardson, who is actually Bryant’s niece. Bryant became Richardson’s surrogate mother when Richardson’s biological mother, Bryant’s sister, took ill.
They’ve been like two peas in a pod ever since.
In the late 1960s, Bryant opened Lee’s soul food restaurant at 2114 E. 71st St. She employed everyone in the family, Richardson said.
She also courted celebrity patrons, including soul singers Mavis Staples and Aretha Franklin, and William Thomas, who played Buckwheat in the short movie series “Our Gang,” said Bryant’s nephew, Joseph Lewis.
Now there are three grandchildren and six great-grands. Many were on hand for the festivities featuring Tina Turner tribute artist Dorothy Roberson, who sang and danced in her Tina-esque red fringe dress and got everyone rolling on the river to “Proud Mary.”
Bryant had asked for “Tina” in recollection of the days when she went to juke joints and heard Ike and Tina Turner perform live. The family are also fans of the late BB King and his Chicago-based singing daughter Shirley. “I like the blues,” the centenarian said, “I like all kinds of music.”
Becoming 105 earns one a measure of grandiosity. When asked how it feels to still be living Bryant said simply, “I feel fine, some days.”
She still sometimes does her own dishes in her Heritage Woods apartment unit. Life goes on.
“We are here to observe and celebrate Madam Bryant’s legacy,” said Bryce Word, a liaison for housing and senior relations for Ald. Walter Burnett. “We so appreciate having jewels like this in the 27th Ward. Our seniors bring pride, dignity and distinction not only to our ward, but to the city of Chicago.”
Tiffany Siler, the resident services coordinator at Heritage Woods, said that Bryant “has that spunk” that is not defined by age. “She’s a sweetheart.”
Sheldon Flowers, who decorates cakes out of his home near Laramie and Van Buren, was delighted to provide a two-tiered, jewel-studded 105th birthday cake for Bryant. It was the oldest birthday he’d made a cake for, he said with a big smile.