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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
540-483-5113
Fax: 540-483-8013

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Centenarian: Work hard, live within your means
A.J. Reeves of Truevine celebrates his 100th birthday
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Staff Photo by Stacey Hairston: A.J. Reeves of Rocky Mount celebrated his 100th birthday with a party Saturday at the Pigg River Community Center with friends and family. Pictured at the party are (from left) granddaughter, Teresa Williams-Foreman; grandson, Tracy Williams; daughter, Claudette Williams; Reeves; wife, Lillie Young Reeves; son, Alfonzo Reeves; and granddaughter, Valerie LeGrand.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

By STACEY HAIRSTON - Staff Writer

A.J. Reeves has worn many hats in his life and has gained many titles, but the milestone he is most proud of today is his new title of "centenarian."

"I'm very thankful to reach 100 and still not have to be waited on by anyone," said Reeves.

Reeves was born in Truevine on June 2, 1914, to Robert and Rosie Hopkins Reeves.

"I am the ninth child from the top," he said.

He grew up on a farm that had about four cows, three horses and 150 acres of land, he said.

Reeves attended a one-room school that only had one teacher for 65 students. After finishing the seventh grade, he went to work on the farm.

"I remember the day we got our first car," he said. "It was a 1923 Ford Model-T. It was brand new and was shipped in a crate to Roanoke. My brother is the one who bought it for about $700."

Reeves said his family was the first black family in the community to own a car, and there were only two other families in the community who had a car.

"We would give rides in that car," he said. "There was a station nearby where we'd pick up 10 or 12 people at a time and give them a ride. We charged $1 a head and when we dropped one group off, another was waiting. We just about paid for that car by selling rides."

Before the car, the family had a horse and buggy.

"We had one single rig and one double rig," he said.

Reeves also remembers his mother buying the family's first washing machine.

"It was a gas-powered Maytag washing machine," he said. "I used to work on it myself when parts went bad."

The only living sibling of 12, he eventually inherited his father's farm, adding it to farmland of his own.

Later, he bought a truck and did hauling to earn money.

In 1941, after a short courtship, Reeves married his wife, Lillie Young Reeves, who hailed from the neighboring Sontag community.

The couple was married by Rev. Morton Hopkins at Hopkins' home in Sontag shortly after Lillie finished training school.

It was the same year Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and gas was only 12 cents a gallon.

"The only ones at the wedding were the preacher, his wife, myself, Lillie and Lillie's mother," said Reeves. "We went to Martinsville for our honeymoon."

The couple will be married 74 years Jan. 24, 2015.

At first, the couple lived in a rental house that Reeves' father owned, while Reeves worked on building a home of their own. In the meantime, the couple had their first child, a daughter, Claudette. A son, Alfonso, came next.

It took Reeves just two years to build their house, which has six rooms, including a special sewing room for Lillie.

"I tried to get a loan from the local bank for windows and other supplies," said Reeves. "They told me I would have to get a co-signer, so I told them 'no thank you' and saved the money and paid for it myself. I've never owed anybody anything."

The couple got electricity in the mid 40s and quickly obtained their first refrigerator.

Running water came in 1950.

"I remember the dinner bell being our telephone," said Reeves. "Back then, if you wanted to get in touch with somebody, you went to visit the Tenches who lived down the street. They owned a local station and would send messages for people. Besides, blacks didn't own telephones back then."

Reeves raised chickens for about 12 years, producing around 32,000 chickens each year. When the price of the broilers and fryers went down, carpentry and a sawmill became a way of making money. Reeves even cut the rough timber for his own home at his sawmill.

He also built the current Truevine Missionary Baptist Church, of which he has been a member his whole life.

"It took about two years to build it," he said. "Some days, I'd have help. Other days, I wouldn't. But it got done."

"Eventually, the Army got all my good help, so I stopped building and got into electricity and plumbing," he said.

He was an electrician and plumber in his community for over 40 years before retiring at age 80.

"I never met a plumbing problem I couldn't solve," he said. "I taught myself how to plumb and I learned along the way."

During his time as a plumber, he experienced what he says is one of the scariest days of his life. In 1970, Reeves was hired to pull a pump for some neighbors.

While working, he ended up falling into the 65-foot well -- a hole that was no more than 24 inches wide.

"I fell 50 feet," he said. "I knew there was about 6 feet of water at the bottom and I can't swim."

Reeves caught himself with his elbows and started yelling for help.

He estimates about 30 minutes went by before the young daughter of the homeowner, along with a friend who had come over to play, heard him yelling and went to get their mothers.

"The girls were no more than about 4 years old," he said. "I was in that well for about 30 minutes, but it felt like 30 years."

Reeves said he wondered if he would live or die.

"The girl told her mother, 'Mr. A.J. is in the well,'" said Reeves.

The mother dismissed the girl's claims at first, telling her that Reeves was supposed to be in the well since he was working on it. The girl kept insisting, however, and the woman came out to check on Reeves.

"She yelled down, asking me if I was okay and if I needed help," said Reeves. "I looked up and yelled 'Lord, yes!'"

Reeves talked the woman through using the switches on his truck to lower a hoist down into the well.

"On my way up and out of that well, it felt like I was taking a ride to Heaven," he said. "There was no one else around to hear me calling for help that day. If it wasn't for that little girl, I wouldn't be here today."

Reeves said there is no secret to long life.

"We eat three hot meals a day at the same time every day," he said, "or close to it. Breakfast is at 7, lunch at noon and supper is at 6 every day."

Reeves said it is important to work hard in life.

"I work hard, but when I sit down, I relax," he said. "We go to bed around 10:30 and we get up around 6:30."

Reeves said he only has one cup of coffee a day and never drank alcohol.

"I drink water, juice and soda sometimes," he said. "And I eat a lot of what I grow in my garden."

His wife, Lillie, who is 91, still freezes and cans foods during the summer months and makes the couple's meals every day.

"We both still mow our own grass, too," said Reeves. "We have two mowers. She does part and I do part."

Reeves is currently into woodworking and has a shop right outside his house, where he makes clocks, curio cabinets and many other items out of wood.

"I work in my shop every day," he said. "Even if it is just to piddle a little bit, I still work in my shop every day."

Reeves visited his doctor a month ago for a routine checkup. He said his eyesight is nearly perfect and the only medication he takes is his daily vitamins.

Reeves said he gets around "just as good" as he ever did, despite having had both knees replaced.

"My new knees are better than my old ones," he said. "My doctor said I am the most amazing man he's ever seen."

Reeves said he received over 50 birthday cards this year.

"It made me feel good to have people calling and wishing me a 'Happy Birthday'," he said. "As soon as I would hang up the phone, it was ringing again."

Reeves said he is grateful for a full and happy life.

"I'm just going to keep living like I've been living," he said, "always within my means."

In fact, he credits living within his means as a possible reason he has lived to see 100.

"I sleep very well at night," he said. "People should never try to get rich, just try to make a good living. Never try to keep up with the Jones. It'll get you every time. I've never been stressed from owing anyone, and I've never been in no trouble."

Besides their two children, the Reeves have three grandchildren, two step-grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

Reeves' family and friends gathered last weekend to celebrate his milestone year with a party at the Pigg River Community Center in Rocky Mount.

 
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