Long Pond Native Turns 100
Not many can say they remember when cars, air conditioning, and cell phones integrated into society, but for 100-year-old Vitus Lawrence Stewart, those events are a fraction of a long life well-lived.
“I’m very blessed,” the centenarian said.
Life in Long Pond
The daughter of Eudelle Foskey Lawrence and Walter Daniel Lawrence, Vitus came into the world on June 11, 1922. She was one of nine children raised by Mrs. Lawrence after her husband died. Although only five at the time, Vitus remembers her father’s passing. “When I walked up to the bed, he took my hand and looked at Mama and said, ‘If I die, don’t let my children fool with them boys.’ The older you get, memories like that really mean a lot to you.”
She added, “We were all busy as youngins, we didn’t have time to think about things.” According to Vitus, she and her siblings worked throughout their childhood to help their mother maintain the homestead after their father died.
“She went to school in Long Pond for a little while, but she decided she wanted to work instead of going to school,” Clarence Stewart said of his mother. “But from my understanding, when she went to school, she liked to take up for people, so she would get in a lot of fights. That’s one of the stories I’ve heard. She took up for the underdog, and she still does. She was very feisty, I guess.” Clarence resided in the family home in Montgomery County for many years and witnessed several major changes within daily life throughout the years.
Vitus’s youngest son, Clarence, said about the Lawrence homeplace, “I remember walking into her (Vitus’s) mother’s house, and normally, when you walk in a house, you turn on light switches and the whole thing lights up. They had one light bulb in the entire house. People today can’t visualize that.” He continued, “They didn’t have indoor plumbing; they didn’t have screens on the windows. They had wooden shutters they pulled closed every night. It was tough. Now, when the air conditioning goes out, we complain. It was a different world then, but not a bad world.” Vitus looked back on her first experience riding in a car. “Well, we didn’t drive early ourselves. I was probably married before I drove. We didn’t have cars until I was older. We were married and on our own before we had that kind of thing. There was a lot of stuff we didn’t have.” She recalled, “We had a good home. Mama was a widow with all them youngins, but everybody was good to us. If somebody got sick, people would go sit up all night with them. Now, people have everything but don’t have time to do anything for anybody else.” The old Lawrence home place, located on North Old River Road in Long Pond, is still inhabited by descendants of Vitus’s family, as her Great-Great-Niece Kendra Harbuck and her family now live there.
Vitus married and had four children that she brought up strictly and according to her beliefs.
“My Mom raised us based on what she believed was right,” eldest son Willard “Butch” Stewart said about his childhood. “Me and my siblings, most of us were very strong-willed children, but Mama put her foot down and didn’t budge. You couldn’t make her change her beliefs. She stood firm on what she believed. That’s the most influential thing I have ever seen from my Mama.” He added, “Mama had a supernatural strength that didn’t come from her, but came from God, and I believe He gave her that strength to raise those kids.” Stewart’s eldest son also talked about how his mother parented with great wisdom. “I’m thankful Mama made it to 100 years of age; that’s really a joy. I think the whole story is just her life. She’s a strong woman. She came out of Montgomery County with something in her that is so special. [It’s] not just tenacity, but great wisdom as well. My Mom is a real deep thinker.”
He reminisced on his mother’s parenting tactics, such as when she reminded him when he was a child that somewhere in the world, people would appreciate the food that he did not want to eat. “It would make me so mad because she wouldn’t budge,” he commented with a laugh. “But, now I can appreciate it, because she really was sharing some important wisdom.”
Vitus’s daughter, Linda Wray, also spoke about her childhood. “She’s never been one to yell or scream, but when she would say ‘Linda Faith,’ I knew I was in trouble,” Linda remarked with a chuckle.
All of Vitus’s children but one, who passed away earlier this year, attended her 100th birthday celebration, which was held on June 11 at a church she helped found in Douglas. Those who had gathered to honor Vitus spoke of her wisdom and strength throughout the years. She is probably one of the strongest women that I’ve ever met. Nothing fazes her,” Linda emphasized.
“When my younger brother died, I was in the hospital. I was very upset about not being able to be there with the family, but she told me, ‘Linda, there is a reason. I understand and Steve understands. It’s O.K. He’s out of pain, we know where he is. When it’s your time, it’s your time.’ She’s so wise. With everything going on in the world, she’ll tell you that all we need is love.” All three children spoke of their amazement at their mother’s good attitude throughout life.
“I have never heard her complain, She still doesn’t complain. She probably has every reason to complain because of her health conditions, but she’s always got a good attitude. That’s the key,” Clarence remarked, “Her attitude is never bad. I can never remember her having a bad attitude about anything. I think that’s why she’s still here.” He added, “She’s also always been interested in people. Now that she can’t get out, she burns that telephone up making sure she stays in contact with everyone. It feels wonderful to be able to celebrate her. She’s been an excellent mother, and I hope I’ve taken some lessons from her throughout the years.”
Butch Stewart also shared that his mother lived a very basic life, in which she found joy. He said that his wife had been impacted by this basic life and speaks often of what she has learned from his mother, including the importance of standing firm upon your beliefs.
“The thing she says she hates the most is that she can’t work; at 100 years old, she hates that she can’t work,” he shared. “So her standards and what she stands for haven’t changed a bit with her age.”
Linda commented, “The thing that we are most thankful for is that she still has her mind. She can’t walk. She uses her walker to get up and go to the bathroom and other small trips. But the mind is still there. She’ll ask about all the kids, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.”
Linda said that her mother lived alone until she was 95 years old. “She lost her eyesight and began to get scared. She had never been scared before,” her daughter remarked. Linda said her mother did not want to leave her house, so for a long time people took turns staying with her.
When the family finally realized it was time for Vitus to enter a facility, they took her to Lakeside Senior Living in Douglas, where she renewed connections with many of her friends. “She saw people she knew and fell in love with the place,” Linda shared. “From then on, she was happy being there.”
Linda said her mother’s strength often sustained others in trying times. “[During COVID,] she felt sorry for the people in her nursing home that didn’t understand why their loved ones couldn’t come and visit. She would try to encourage them that it would be all right, and that the pandemic would pass. She was trying to help them.”
Vitus continues to live at Lakeside, as she makes new memories with those she loves and reminisces about the past. She has seen a century of change and remains joyful and grateful for her experiences, and is an inspiration for all who know her.