Stella Johnson

Time takes its toll on everyone – even someone who has lived for over a century in fairly good health. As recently as around her 101st birthday, Stella Johnson may have been struggling with glaucoma and arthritis, but her mind was still sharp. 

When a nephew and a niece passed away within a short period of time, however, Stella Johnson “went into a daze” and hasn’t really come out of it, said Florianne Johnson, her daughter and caretaker.

But during a recent birthday party in suburban Maywood at the home of Ebony Donnell, Stella’s granddaughter, held Aug. 3 to celebrate Stella turning 102, the centenarian — who lives on Chicago’s West Side — was alert to the love and care that surrounded her. 

She even cracked jokes. 

Stella’s family said that they believe that love has kept their matriarch alive for so long. Born in July 31, 1916 in Greenwood, Miss., Stella moved to Chicago with her two children in 1941 — the year she married her husband, Willie Johnson. 

Stella held down manufacturing jobs at a glass company and then a belt company before she focused on housekeeping. She retired in 1975. Along with her two children, Stella has five grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and several nieces and nephews.

These days, it isn’t uncommon for Stella to stay awake for three days straight, talking non-stop, and then sleep for three days straight. Before her birthday celebration, she had been up for three days, so she frequently dosed off during the festivities.

But when Stella was asked about her past, she rattled out the dates of major events in her life, as well as the exact addresses of the places she lived in Chicago. And while glaucoma has robbed her of her eyesight, she recognized her relatives by name, if not necessarily by voice. 

“She inspires me,” said Donnell of her grandmother. “On a regular day, she tell you about everything. She talk about how to make something, how to cook something. “

She attributed her grandmother’s longevity to one thing.

“That’s love,” Donnell said. “She’s got a whole lot more years. The doctor say her heart is good.”

Igor Studenkov 

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...