Centennial wisdom: Our friend turns 100.

“Come on in,” she said. “We can talk in here.” I let myself into the foyer and was greeted with a smile and a firm hand. Her voice sounded aged, but there was a youthful exuberance to the way she spoke. She took us to her side nook where the sun beamed through the windows onto her favorite reading spot, which like her was soft and warm. She lied down as the light filled her face.

“It’s so nice to meet you,” she said with a rare sincerity. “How are you?”

I told her I was fine, but I privately knew my life was not the focus; her’s was. Genevieve Turner, a friend of SouthSide’s for years, had just turned 100 years-of-age. There was no doubt that her stories were better than mine.

Genevieve was born in Mount Morris, Illinois on January 24, 1914, the second of three children. She has lived through 17 presidents, two world wars, and the birth of commercial television, but if you asked her, the history she keeps track of the most is that of her family, most of whom made it to her 100th birthday party.

Genevieve Turner reaches for her glasses as she looks back over the course of a century.

“I have three children, ten grandchildren, and seventeen great-grandchildren,” she said as a grin covered her face. “(The party) was more or less masterminded by my son from Annapolis (Maryland), and my nephews came from Chicago and Florida,”

They weren’t the only ones who made the trip to St. Louis from far away.

“My granddaughter came from California, so it was a real meeting of the clan.”

Her love of family and children is what led her to get involved with SouthSide, with her membership at Eliot Unitarian Church serving as the bridge. She’s seen what SouthSide has been able to accomplish over the years and she’s very proud of our mission.

“There is a crying need in the community,” she said. “They’re making terrific moves forward. (SouthSide) has superlative leadership.”

She then spoke to the importance of loving—and disciplining—a child and how that can impact the future.

“The sturdy background of role models, like parents or the teachers at SouthSide, makes for a strong child,” she said. “Perhaps one or two role models—particularly their parents—are what makes a child strong.”

We spent the next while talking about family and community, about how much has changed over the years. She was able to recall with great detail her days with her husband as they established youth camps at their Unitarian church, where he was a preacher. She even spoke about John D. Rockefeller as if he were an old neighbor. In an era of Twitter and short attention spans, her focus and memory were refreshing and as sharp as her wit.

When I asked her about her take on her life thus far, she candidly said, “I keep saying I’m trying to do better at the next hundred.”

It was a funny answer, but a seemingly impossible challenge; her first 100 years were as good as it gets.

Before I left, I asked her one final question.

“What advice would you give to people as they grow older?”

She paused and looked to the ceiling, smiling slightly. Her mind’s eye scanned the course of 100 years of trials and tender moments, years that were spent with family and ones she loved.

“Enjoy life,” she said with a smirk. “Don’t sweat little things—it’s the final outcome that matters."