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Millen woman ready to celebrate 100 years

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Posted: June 20, 2014 9:20 p.m.
Updated: June 22, 2014 9:29 a.m.
Millen woman ready to celebrate 100 years

Sarah Black Johnson, 99, chuckles while sharing stories during a family visit at Bethany Home Nursing Center in Millen. Johnson is turning 100 on July 2.

       Until just a few years ago, Sarah Black Johnson could be found in her little country store in Herndon, a Jenkins County community, helping customers and keeping track of what was going on with everybody.   
       She never forgot a birthday and enjoyed sending cards and making calls to those celebrating. If someone in the community fell ill, Johnson took them comforting food, which was always home cooked. She loved spending time in the kitchen and made three hot meals a day in between running the store named after her late husband, Math Johnson Sr.
       Today, Johnson spends her time playing checkers and enjoying singing and other activities at Bethany Nursing Center in Millen while awaiting her 100th birthday, coming up July 2.
       According to her son Math Johnson Jr., the old-fashioned “Steel Magnolia” operated the family grocery store until six years ago. The classic corner store was where one could buy necessities and sit and chat while enjoying an ice cold drink and a snack, possibly some traditional Southern favorites — an RC Cola and a Moon Pie. It was a gathering place offering as much in the way of social life as it did in providing customers with essential items, he said.
       In keeping with her old-fashioned ways, Sarah Johnson never evolved with the computer world, preferring to add up sums in her head and ring up items on a cash register.
       Johnson, born in Emanuel County in 1914, was one of nine children who grew up on a farm, with her father working as a sharecropper (meaning he operated a farm belonging to another in exchange for part of the profits).
       She moved to Herndon with her husband in the late 1940s, where they purchased the store. After his death in 1989, Johnson continued operating the store.
       During its heyday, the store was a hub of activity, but Johnson made sure the family was well fed. Hot, country-cooked meals were on the table three times a day, and she always was prepared for any unexpected visitors her husband brought home, her son said.
       “She was an excellent cook who could throw a meal together in a few minutes well before ‘fast food’ was an expression,” he said.
       Johnson never missed church on Sundays and always knew the latest news about folks in her community. She was “blunt,” and people who didn’t know her “might not think she was as sweet as she is,” but Johnson was always straightforward and honest, and people always knew where they stood with her, he said.
       Her habit of sending cards and making calls to acknowledge other people’s birthdays was a great joy to her, and Math Johnson Jr. hopes friends and family will return the favor. The Johnson family hopes to see Sarah Black Johnson receive at least 100 birthday cards this week and invites friends and relatives to attend a drop-in celebration at Bethany Home Nursing Center on Sunday, June 29, from 2–4 p.m.
       Bethany Home Nursing Center is located at 466 S. Gray St. in Millen. Cards may be mailed in care of Sarah Black Johnson or hand delivered during the party. Johnson will be the center of attention, and, if guests are lucky, she may divulge her secrets for living a long and fulfilling life.

       Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

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