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Three Centenarians Celebrate Life

by Keisha Graziadei-Shup

Mary Kostel, a resident of the Brian Center near Alleghany at their winter ball.

There are three women still alive in Southwest VA that have seen the first automobile ever invented, the Great Flood of 1913, both World Wars and the Great Depression in their lifetimes that are still around to tell the tales.

Roanoke-based Kissito Healthcare, a not-for-profit health care provider, manages five long term and post-acute care facilities in Virginia. Two of those facilities in Southwest VA house three residents that have turned 101, 103 and 104 years old at the cusp of February this year.

Alpha “Granny” Averill of Kissito’s The Brian Center near Alleghany celebrated her birthday on January 30th of this year.  She takes first place of the three centenarians at 104 years young. Of eight children she is the only one still alive.

Granny recalls the Great Flood of 1913 and the image that comes to mind for her is a doghouse with a dog sitting on top of it, floating toward her. She also tells a story of taking a wagon full of melons to her home in Low Moor from her Granddaddy’s, the wagon breaking and having to carry all the melons up the mountain with her hands. She says that many of her early days were spent making “scrapple” and “leather britches” to eat and “picking huckleberries.”

She fondly reminisces about a memory of her Great Aunt Mary. “She would take us outside of the culvert – that was when automobiles first came out. My aunt wore a bonnet and when somebody came by in an old Ford she would holler, ‘Hey! How about taking us for a ride?’ They took us up the road in that car and it was the first time we had rode in a car. There was our aunt sitting there in that car with that bonnet on. She kept us laughing all the time.”

The good memories were not without strife.  “We never had a decent biscuit to take to school for lunch,” she says. “We would go to school all day without anything to eat.” She also talks about how there often wasn’t enough coal for the schoolhouse and that most students only received two years of high school. Rarely did someone go to college.

Mary Kostel, also a resident of The Brian Center Alleghany, turned 103 on February 2nd. Still sharp in conversation and walking well, she was the oldest of five children. She boasts eight grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

At three years old, Mary moved from the U.S. to Sparta, Greece, her parents’ homeland where her father owned an olive orchard and made olive oil. At 16, she moved back to the U.S. and married James Kostel in January of 1927. The couple later opened the first restaurant in Clifton Forge to have an air conditioning unit.

Her son, George Kostel, 83, the oldest of her three sons says of his mother, “She’s still the same. My mother wants to accomplish things. She’s very productive … She’s [also] a positive person; she sees the positive side of things.”

George speaks of his mother’s resilience regarding the World Wars and the Great Depression. “Those situations never really affected her in the way that the death of her youngest son did, who passed away at age 46 of lung cancer.”

Hazel Hager also celebrated her 101st birthday on February 2nd, which was groundhog day. She’s been asked many times why she didn’t stay inside on her birthday so she wouldn’t see her shadow. “I got the blame for the weather,” she admits.

Hager, resident of the Brian Center near Fincastle, had no children of her own but is sure to get calls from all her nieces and nephews on Groundhog Day.

She can’t read as well anymore, but still prefers quiet time over anything else. She likes to talk, but she’s “never been the type of person to mingle or small talk,” her niece, Twila Briscoe, says endearingly of her Aunt Hazel. “She has always used her mind. She’s a reader, enjoys good discussions, theology.” She adds that Hager is very adept when it comes to knowledge of current events.

Longevity runs in the family, apparently. Aunt Hazel’s mother lived to 107 and both her grandmother and great-grandmother lived to 102, making her a fourth-generation centenarian.

As was true for Granny Averill and Mary Kostel, a long life is not without hard times. Her father was killed in a coal mine, but eventually her mother remarried and that brought more brothers and sisters.

Making up only .0002 percent of the U.S. population, centenarians are few in number but their experiences and wisdom are priceless and the tales they tell are endearing and provide a perspective on modern life that is available nowhere else.

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