Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 3, 2013

Several weeks ago, Sandra Cody, an acquaintance of mine, asked if I would write a story about her friend, Lonnie Cruse Holmes, turning 100 years old on Jan. 26.
“I’d be glad to write a story,” I answered. Even though I didn’t know Lonnie, if someone lives to be 100 that’s good enough reason for me. Meeting Lonnie a week before her birthday at Trinity Oaks Retirement Community, where she lives in Salisbury, I found there were more reasons to write a story.
When I arrived, Sandra and her husband, Jim, were waiting for me at the entrance to Trinity Oaks. After signing in at the front desk, we walked down a long hallway to Lonnie’s apartment.
Seeing several dolls sitting on a table outside her door, I thought, “How sweet.”
I later learned she began collecting dolls in 1965, buying her first one at a yard sale for only ten cents.
Walking into her apartment, I saw Lonnie sitting in an easy chair with a great big smile. The room felt cozy and warm, with framed art all around and even more dolls. It was as if things from Lonnie’s life were there to give her comfort and companionship. Knowing I was there to write a story, she invited me to pull up a chair.
Born in 1913 in Gold Hill, one of six children, Lonnie was the only daughter of Henry and Sarah Jane Haltom Cruse. She received her education at Mitchell Home School and later Mitchell Junior College in Misenheimer. That school is now known as Pfeiffer University. After graduating from Mitchell, Lonnie went on to what was then Appalachian State Teachers College.
Lonnie’s teaching career began in 1933 at Eldorado Elementary School in Montgomery County, where she met her husband, Moses Holmes. He was the principal at an adjoining school. Married in 1936, they never had children, but Lonnie became a second mother to many, including her students.
When Lonnie began teaching, it wasn’t unusual for teachers to have a large number of students. She said, “A large class wasn’t hard to manage then because children knew to come into the classroom, sit down and be quiet. One year I had 49 in my class.”
I almost fell off my chair when she said that. She went on to explain teachers in those years didn’t give homework, so they had an advantage over teachers today — not having a lot of papers to grade.
After chatting with Lonnie for about 30 minutes, I asked if she loved music. She said she did and felt lucky that she was able to take piano lessons during the day in elementary school. Playing the piano for church when she was 11, she later learned to play the organ. Her mom, organist for many years at St. Paul’s Wesleyan Church in Gold Hill, was her inspiration. Lonnie laughingly remembered a few funny things that happened to both her and her mom while playing for church.
One Sunday when Lonnie was playing the organ, a horse fly kept biting her on the ankle. Since she was having to pump the pedals with both feet, she couldn’t move either foot to scare the fly away. A lady in the choir noticed and got up during the song to hit the horse fly with her fan. Lonnie kept on playing, not missing a beat.
During a church service when her mom was playing, a mouse ran out of its hole near the organ. The mouse ran between her mom’s feet, then scurried across the front of the church. One of the ladies in the choir who was afraid of mice began screaming.
The poor mouse took off running down the aisle toward the back of the church, while everyone tried to hit him with their fans. Not successful at finding a hole, the mouse raced back up the aisle to its original home. I laughed, imagining that poor mouse so traumatized. He probably never came out of his hole again.
Carrying her love of music into the classroom as a teacher, Lonnie often played the piano and sang with her students. Some of them developed such a love of music from Mrs. Holmes, they later went on to college, earning music degrees. One of those is now a semi-retired choir director in Chicago, while another became a teacher at the N.C. School of the Arts.
Teaching school a little more than 40 years, Lonnie spent the last half of her career at Linwood Elementary School, where she retired. When I went to the birthday party on Jan. 26, I met three students she taught while at Linwood. Jane Everhart, Cam Perry and Joyce Parsons have memories even today of Mrs. Holmes singing and playing the piano.
Watching their faces as they recalled saying the Pledge of Allegiance and singing patriotic songs, it was if they were traveling back through time right before my eyes.
Thinking only a few friends and family would attend her birthday party, Lonnie was surprised at the large number of people who came to celebrate her milestone. Little did she realize about 40 people would show up to wish her happy birthday, while enjoying fellowship, cake and finger food.
I asked Lonnie before I left what she would like for everyone to know. She said she would like for everyone to know she’s been a Christian all of her life and loves Jesus. Proud to be the oldest living member of Linwood United Methodist Church, Lonnie faithfully placed wildflowers from her garden on the altar for six years without missing a Sunday. That ended when she moved to Trinity Oaks 15 years ago.
Sandra said those who know Lonnie can testify to her love for Jesus because it has always been reflected in her life through service not only to her church and community, but to everyone she met along the way. What a wonderful world this would be if we all had a Lonnie Cruse Holmes in our lives.

Dicy McCullough’s books are available at local bookstores, and Barnes & Noble. Call her at 704-278-4377.