A milestone few live to see was recognized Tuesday at Heritage Inn Health and Rehabilitation when resident Sugar Pryor celebrated her 107th birthday with family, friends, facility staff, cake, ice cream and watermelon.
Born Sugar Johnson on June 14, 1909, Pryor enjoyed her celebration throughout the day. Some family members dropped by that morning, several came for the afternoon party and some showed up later in the evening, making it a sweet way to add another year to her legacy - and what a legacy it is.
Pryor's mother died when she was only 3 weeks old, and Sugar's grandmother helped raise her, something that would come full-circle, as Pryor would eventually raise some of her own grandchildren.
Sugar and Beaufort Pryor had four children: Ruby, Cornelius, Alma Ruth and Beaufort. At 89, Ruby is the only living child. Presently, Sugar Pryor has 17 grandchildren, 38 great-grandchildren, 58 great-great-grandchildren and seven great-great-great grandchildren, for a total of six living generations - 120 grands.
That's a lot of legacy. In fact, though Pryor is alert most of the time and enjoys conversations with others, when asked about her descendents, she answered honestly: "I don't know how many I have; I can't remember."
Then again, who could keep up with that many? And as if that weren't enough, over the years, many children, including some of the kids of Heritage Inn's staff members, have called Pryor "Granny."
"She's been very special to all the staff over the years," said Susan Oliver, activities director for Heritage Inn.
Oliver said at the end of every month, the facility hosts a birthday party for all residents who have celebrated birthdays that month.
"But at 107, we thought she deserved her own party," she said, detailing the event she and the staff planned for Pryor and her family.
In addition to Pryor's own large family, there are the Nessmiths - her "extended family," as granddaughter Caroline Lee calls them.
"Ms. Sugar lived on our place; she was our second mom," said Statesboro resident Garland Nessmith, recalling his family's close relationship with Pryor. "Both of my parents (Margaret and Ben Nessmith) worked. Ms. Sugar - sometimes we called her Ms. Shug or Ms. Shuggie - was always there when we came home from school; six of us, four girls and two boys. She lived about a quarter of a mile from our house, and she'd walk down to greet us and take care of us."
Nessmith remembers working with Pryor as a little boy.
"I was the 'hander.' It was my job to hand the tobacco to Ms. Sugar, and she was the 'stringer,' " he said. "When I got older, I was the 'stick-off' man. She'd holler, "Stick off!" and it was my job to take the completed stick of strung tobacco off the pegs, and she'd start stringing another stick.
"She was the hardest working lady I've ever known in my life," Nessmith said. "I never heard her complain about any job she ever had. She helped my mother cook at the holidays, took care of us when we were sick. I don't know what we'd do without her."
Pryor shared a similar appreciation of the Nessmith family.
"They helped me when I couldn't help myself," she said of Margaret and Ben Nessmith. "If everybody was like them, it would be a good thing. Anything I needed, they got it for me."
Oldest granddaughter Caroline Lee, 68, daughter of Ruby, also remembers her grandmother's hard work and said she spent many summers working with her grandparents when they were sharecroppers.
"We'd come to Statesboro from Metter on Sunday evening after church and stay through Friday evening," she said. "I was the hander for my grandmomma. ... And I used the money I made to buy school clothes."
Lee, who now works as a nurse in Augusta, said she remembers Grandmomma Sugar and Granddaddy 'Pig' milking cows, making butter and cream, working in the smokehouse, harvesting tobacco and cotton, canning and freezing vegetables and making syrup from sugar cane.
After Beaufort Pryor died in the 1950s, Sugar Pryor moved onto the Nessmith place and then eventually into a small home of her own on Miller Street.
"When Grandmomma started falling in her yard, Momma moved her to Savannah to live with her. But then when Momma had surgery for cancer, I came down and found a place for Grandmomma at Heritage in 2006," Lee said.
Lee said that when her mom recovered, she wanted to move Pryor back home with her, but Pryor said she was happy at home in Statesboro and wanted to stay.
"She can be feisty," Lee said. "She'll tell me, 'I'm no child; I'm grown.' She stands her ground."
As if on cue, a nurse walks up, and Pryor promptly throws her fists in the air and says, "You better not come in here." Nurse Paula displays her fists and jokingly replies, "I'm ready; let's go."
Pryor slowly drops her hands to her lap and says with a smirk, "Nah, I'll meet you tomorrow."
That feistiness, coupled with her lifelong commitment to try "to be good to everybody," might just be the formula for a long, admirable life and legacy.