Morristown resident Helena M. Hardin said the secret to a long, happy life is in one’s genes.
And she should know – she’ll be celebrating her 105th birthday on Tuesday.
“I got good genes, I guess,” she said.
Although she can’t have a birthday party because of COVID-19 concerns, her family will come by her house to say hello, Hardin said.
Hardin has two children, four grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. She also has quite a few “grand fur-babies,” or her grandchildren’s dogs.
“I’ve got a whole bunch of fur-babies,” she said, as her daughter Sara Stout named off at least 10 dogs that belong to Hardin’s family members. “They’re my K-9 friends. I don’t have any dogs of my own because it’s too busy on this corner and I’m afraid they might get hit.”
The corner her house sits on is by the intersection of Main Street and Highway 52 in Morristown. She often sits on her front porch with her family, much like Stout plans to do on her birthday.
“We can have a good family gathering,” she said. “The young kids come up and they sit around and talk their language, which I can’t understand because I’m too old.”
Hardin’s front porch is marked by pink flowers – pink is her favorite color. The day of our interview, she wore pink glasses, a white blouse with pink print, pink pants and had pink nails.)
The pink Mandevilla flowers, her favorites, hang in pots and grow up the columns on her front porch. Hardin said she loves her flowers.
“My daughter and son take care of them for me,” she said. “I just look at them and tell ‘em they’re pretty.”
Her love for flowers and animals comes from growing up on a farm in Rush County, she said. She was born in Fayette County in 1915.
She had one sister who was three years younger. They played with paper dolls – figures cut out of paper that could be dressed up with clothes also cut from thin paper. Stout said Hardin’s grandmother cut paper dolls for the girls to play with.
“Especially in the winter, we played paper dolls,” she said.
“In the summertime, we mowed the yard and took care of our garden,” she said. “We raised everything in our garden. We had strawberries – we sold strawberries!”
She attended New Salem schools for a while, then moved to Arlington schools and graduated from Arlington High School in Rush County in 1933. The school has since closed.
After she graduated, Hardin met her late husband, Harold, at the Rush County Fair when she was 23 years old.
“That doesn’t sound very romantic, does it?” she added.
They were married in 1937. Harold was a teacher and taught at Greenfield, Carthage, Arlington and Morristown. At Morristown Jr./Sr. High School, he taught history and coached baseball and basketball. He moved to the elementary school and taught there until he retired.
“I always talked to him like he was a keeper, and he was,” she said.
Hardin worked as a cook in the Morristown Schools cafeteria and at the Kopper Kettle for much of her life. Stout said she used to cook big meals after church on Sundays.
“That’s what I remember as a kid, she always cooked a big meal on Sunday,” Stout said. “We always went home from church and she usually fixed fried chicken almost every Sunday.”
Harold passed away in December 2013, and Hardin has worn his picture in a locket around her neck ever since. They were married for 76 years.
“I wore this necklace for seven years,” Hardin said. “I’ve never taken it off.”
Even though her birthday isn’t until Tuesday, Hardin started calling herself 105 years old at the beginning of the month.
“I said if I made it to August, I’d consider myself 105,” she said.
And it seems the White House did too, as Hardin received a birthday certificate in the mail last week from President Donald Trump.
The certificate reads “Happy 105th Birthday! Congratulations on this wonderful occasion. We hope your heart is filled with joy knowing you have experienced our Nation’s greatest blessings and the affection of your loved ones over a long, well lived life. We are delighted to join your family and friends in wishing you continued good health and happiness.”
A signed photo of Trump was also included with the certificate.
“I’m competing against Trump though because I’m going to go vote,” she said.
And it’s the actions like voting that lead Stout to say Hardin doesn’t seem like she’s 105 years old.
“She still behaves as if she were 50,” Stout said.
“She wants to go out and cook still, she still wants to clean her house, she wants to do all these things – and physically, she’s pretty good,” Stout said. “Her knees are her biggest problem. She can’t walk very long.”
“My knees don’t cooperate,” Hardin added. “I got a lot of miles on them.”
But Hardin still goes to the salon once a week to get her hair and nails done.
“I’m very particular about my hair,” she said, gesturing to her freshly-done hair with her pink-painted fingernails.
Her plans for the future include doing her crossword puzzle, going to the library and spending time with her family.
“What more could you expect if you have a good life?” Hardin said.