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Enjoying life at 100
Eleanor Akins celebrates a century of living
W 081112 AKINS 100TH 01
During her 100th birthday party at Forest Heights Country Club, Eleanor Akins tells great-nephew Wayne "WaWa" Pless that she wants to stop taking her medicine because Coca-Cola makes her feel better. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Eleanor Akins turned 100 looking back with laughter and appreciation on episodes from a life she continues to enjoy living.
    While family and friends gathered for her birthday party at Forest Heights Country Club, Mrs. Akins indulged nosy interviewers in a trip down Memory Lane.
    One stop along the way, more than 70 years ago, came into focus. She and her husband, Brooks Leroy Akins, took their firstborn, a little girl named Edwiena, on fishing trips to the Ogeechee River. They would throw a quilt over a plank that someone had fixed between two trees, and little Edwiena would go to sleep in the makeshift tent while her parents fished.
    “We’d fish and cook, fish and cook some more and go home the next morning when the sun came out,” Mrs. Akins said, pausing to reflect.
    “I’ve enjoyed my life,” she added. “I really have, and it hasn’t always been a bed of roses. It hasn’t always been bad, either. I guess it’s just a normal life.”

Want a baby girl?
    Born Aug. 12, 1912, she didn’t have an ordinary start. She knows she arrived in the world around 1 a.m. in Charleston, S.C., but she never knew her biological parents. Put up for adoption, she was carried as a newborn to Savannah and then to Bulloch County.
    “The people in Savannah that worked with the Salvation Army took me in the horse and buggy and brought me to Bulloch County and stopped at every house, you know, like peddling potatoes or something. Want a baby girl?” Mrs. Akins said.
    Adolphus and Willie Emma Parker, of the Middle Ground community in northern Bulloch County, certainly did. Akins says her mother especially wanted a baby girl with pretty, curly hair. So she became Eleanor Parker, their only child.
    Her father had a small farm and a blacksmith shop. Because their house was far from the school and they didn’t think it safe for her to walk “to the big road,” she says, her father sold the farm and the family moved to Rocky Ford when she was still little.
    “I had the best time in Rocky Ford a child could have,” she said. “There were no limits to where we played. … You could play all over town, up and down the railroad track.”
    Carrying drinking water home from the brickyard, the children had fun swinging the buckets over their heads. She got wet many times until she learned how to do this without spilling a drop.
    Once they played inside the depot, running back and forth until the depot agent stopped them.
    “He said, ‘You’re ruining my floor,’” she recalls, laughing about this more than 90 years later.
    The Parkers moved back to Middle Ground when she was in about the seventh grade. The Middle Ground School principal, she recalls, was an Old Line Primitive Baptist preacher who played a perhaps predestining role in assigning seats.
    “He put Leroy Akins on the front seat and put me right behind him,” she said. “Leroy played on the boys basketball team and I played on the girls basketball team and it always happened that when we had an out-of-town game we’d ride in the same car. So we got to liking each other and eventually we got married.”
    Their wedding was in 1932, the year she turned 20. The Akinses had two daughters. Edwiena Kubiak will be 80 this fall, while her sister, Claudette Akins, is 10 years younger. They now live next door to each other in Savannah. Mrs. Akins has no grandchildren, but many other relatives.

Farm wife to waitress
    For years, Leroy Akins was a farmer at Middle Ground, and Mrs. Akins picked cotton by hand, hoed cotton and peanuts, strung tobacco on sticks for curing in a tiered barn, and milked the cow.
    “I never did plow,” she said, explaining that she tried once over her husband’s advice. “And when I got hold to that plow, it come out of the ground and that mule was about to run away.”
    Her husband eventually gave up farming and took a job at the Claude Howard Lumber sawmill. They moved into Statesboro, and she also sought work in town. Her first restaurant job was at the Dinner Bell on East Main. When Mrs. Bryant’s Kitchen, the iconic but now long-gone Statesboro restaurant, opened in the 1950s, Mrs. Akins became a waitress there and remained for 18 years.
    Her independent work life became especially important after her husband’s early death on Christmas Day 1964.
    After Mrs. Bryant’s Kitchen, she worked in the Georgia Southern College (now University) food service, retiring there after beginning an overlapping tenure at Forest Heights Country Club. She continued to work at Forest Heights as a waitress and hostess, and eventually as a greeter, for 35 years, retiring just two years ago when she began to have difficulty walking and standing.
    “I tell you, that’s a good place to learn people, is to do waitress work,” she said. “You find out what they like, what they don’t like, what people are their friends, and what they think of their friends. You’d be surprised what people will tell you. It’s amazing and you just enjoy every bit of it.”
    Without sharing examples, she politely noted that time was winding down to the start of her party, held the day before her actual birthdate.
    “And here I am back partying here, look!” she said. “That seems so unreal. I guess I don’t realize I am about to be 100 years old.”
    Her daughter Edwiena Kubiak said her mother loved working at the country club because she got to see so many people.
    “She knew them all, and still does,” Kubiak said. “I mean, she can remember everybody. I wish I had her memory.”

‘Talk to the Lord’
    Church has been an important part of Mrs. Akins’ life since her mother carried her to Oak Grove Baptist Church – between Portal and Rocky Ford – to show her off when she was 5 weeks old.  Her home churches have been Oak Grove, then Rocky Ford Baptist, Temple Hill Baptist and, since moving to Statesboro more than half a century ago, First Baptist Church.
    “If you ever have a problem in your life, the best way to solve it is to talk to the Lord and do what you think that he’s telling you to do, and you’ll come in on the good end of the horn,” Mrs. Akins said.
    She did volunteer work in many church and community projects over the years. Her friend Cleo Mallard, 93, who also attended Middle Ground School and taught there from 1939 to 1951, recalls that Akins was an involved parent when her daughter Claudette was in school.
    “She was part of everything, initiator of a lot of things. She was PTA president, anything else that came around,” Mallard said. “Eleanor never shirked a duty.”
    After Claudette grew up and moved away, Mrs. Akins decided to rent out a room in her home, and GSU education professor Dr. Walter Peach became a boarder there for 26 years. Peach, who retired in 1999, remembers her riding a three-wheel bike in fundraising bike-a-thons with her pet poodle in the basket. He also recalls her delicious meals and many acts of hospitality.
    “I mean, she could cook – oh, my, the dishes I could tell you!” he said. “The chicken and dumplings, the pear pie, and the list goes on and on.”
    Now Mrs. Akins lives alone. Someone comes by every day to cook her breakfast and lunch and do housework. She arrived at the party in a wheelchair but still walks some at home with the aid of a walker. Recently, she said, her doctor gave her an unvarnished diagnosis.
    “I said tell me the truth, and he said, ‘It’s old age. … You’re never going to be as strong as you were at 80.’ He said, ‘Do the best you can with what you’ve got left,’ so that’s what I plan on doing.
    “I still enjoy living,” Eleanor Akins summed up. “I’m not giving up – not giving up at all.”

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