Oct. 19—THOMASVILLE — With a sash proclaiming her to be "100 and Fabulous," Estella Groover celebrated her 100th birthday in style.

Her family threw her a birthday bash at The Plaza just a few days before, and her younger brother Jack Hadley and a niece delivered a birthday cake to her on her 100th at Rose City Rehab.

For her birthday celebration, more than 20 friends and family members were in person — and another 50, with some as far away as South Korea, joined in via Zoom. They all joined in feting a woman who has written two books, each after she turned 80 years old, survived a bout with meningitis, survived COVID-19 and faced a dire diagnosis before she was born.

As the oldest of 15 children, her role, from an early age, was that of "second mama," she said, whenever her mother went somewhere.

"I was in charge," she said.

Groover was born in a part of Grady County then known as Duncansville. Her family moved to Thomasville when she was a toddler. Several years later, the family moved to Pebble Hill Plantation, where her father King Dennis Hadley worked.

It was the lessons she learned as a young girl that has carried through a century of living.

"When I was growing up, 9 or 10 years old, and we had a vacation Bible school," she said. "We had a Bible study and we had to learn verses from the Bible and one of them was the 10 Commandments. "

When the family went to a fair in Cairo, Groover was asked to sing the 10 Commandments.

"And it stuck with me, as a little girl," she said. "That means I have to do everything mother and daddy says, respect them and all old people. I had all these little brothers and sisters under me. I had to tend to the children."

Groover belonged to the girls voice club as a youngster, and when the women's voice club met, she was in charge of the older children. At times, that meant reading them nursery rhymes, such as "Mother Goose," but often, the little ones had their own requests.

"They had me telling them about Christmas in July," she said.

Groover recalled the workers going to hunt on the last of hunting season for their only chance to shoot quail. Her brother, though, had concocted a popgun — so they shot some of the plentiful robins. She cleaned the birds and got them ready to cook.

Those birds were cleaned, cooked and eaten, and the kitchen cleaned, before their parents got home.

Her father had blackberries, and wine for communion was made out of it. Her brother had a little too much of it one day and was sleeping. Their parents smelled the wine and began to ask the other siblings.

Big sister Stella kept order in the ranks.

"I told the rest of them, 'if they say anything about that wine, don't you tell because you're gonna get a whipping, and if one gets a whipping, everybody is going to get a whipping. That means you ain't left out. I don't care how little you are, you're going to get a whipping.'"

To adulthood

Groover took home economics in high school — "I always loved cooking and sewing," she said — and she was set to attend Fort Valley State University. But her father urged to wait another year.

In the meantime, she took a job at Archbold Hospital. It was there she met her future husband Henry.

"He worked in the operating room, and I worked on the second floor," she said.

She later was persuaded to start taking classes there.

"After 7:30, we're going to go upstairs and we took that class and my job changed from sweeping and mopping to helping the nurses," Groover said.

Eventually, she went to work for Mrs. Henry Moore Sr. for 27 years. That association led her to write her first book, the cookbook "Cooking With Love."

She wrote that one after she turned 80 and had moved into Rose City Rehab. She has written two books, including her memoir, ""The Daughter of a Plantation Worker — "My Life Story" 1921 20 2009 and Counting."

Groover even plans to write a third book. She also led Bible study at Rose City Rehab, until COVID-19 brought those sessions to a haft. She held those sessions every Thursday for a couple of years.

Groover went to the 1964 World's Fair in New York City. From that point, she and her sister Lily Mae decided to take a trip every year.

"I've traveled a lot. I've seen a lot," she said.

Her husband Henry died in 1979, the same year her father passed away.

"So Lily Mae said, 'Stella, let's get out of Dodge. There's too much death going on around here,'" Groover said.

Twenty years ago, Groover had surgery on her back. Her time cleaning at the hospital may have contributed to her condition. So too, she says, did playing basketball as a school girl.

She was playing forward and in the first half, she and her team had their way with their opposition. In the second half, the other side put in their bigger players — including her cousin Ruth, who towered over her.

"We went in there for the second half, and here are all these tall girls, way up over us," Groover said. "When she was in grammar school, she wore size 11 shoes. I stood on my toes to guard her. "

But her cousin took the ball and used it to knock Groover to the ground.

"You talk about hurting," Groover said. "I hurt from my knees to my neck."

Along with surviving meningitis, she also had a cochlear implant to help with her hearing. But Groover admitted she wasn't looking forward to a surgery that involved her head.

"I didn't want anybody messing with my head," she joked.

She even composed a song about the various operations, with a chorus of "oh my head is being operated on."

At the century mark

So what does turning 100 feel like?

"Nothing," she said.

In fact, the doctor wasn't certain Groover would survive being born. Her mother was diagnosed with typhoid during pregnancy and her father applied ice packs to her mother's head to keep the fever down.

"The doctor said the baby isn't going to live, talking about me," Groover said.

But the ice packs helped alleviate the fever and the doctor told the family the baby likely will be all right — "but it ain't gonna have hair," Groover said.

When she was born, she had a head full of hair.

As a little brother, Jack Hadley got emotional when talking about his oldest sister.

"She is our super sister," he said. "She is our queen of the family. From our dad's side of the family, she is the only one who has lived to be 100 years old. That has been a blessing to us."

With 100 years of life, Groover herself is grateful for all she has done and seen and for the life she's had so far.

"I'm so thankful I live in Thomasville," she said. "Thomasville is a good place to live. I am blessed to be here in the United States. All of us are blessed. We need to thank God instead of complaining."

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