By Michael A. Wiseman
Photos by Chad Nance
The first flight of the Wright Brothers… The sinking of the Titanic… Germany invading Poland.. The Model T… Hiroshima… The Civil Rights Movement… multiple world and international wars… D-Day… Moon Landing… Women’s Suffrage… The Great Depression.. The Great Recession… Television… The Atomic Bomb… The internet… Deciphering DNA… The Beatles… Elvis… Michael Jackson… Fall of the Soviet Union… End of Apartheid in South Africa… I Have a Dream.
That’s just a sample of everything that’s happened in Sina Hayes’ lifetime. She was born in 1903 – she turns 112 this coming Saturday. But today, the city celebrated her as the oldest living person in North Carolina.
Mayor Allen Joines called it a “very great accomplishment” before giving her the key to the city.
Brookridge Retirement Community Center sprang to life as residents, media personnel, community members, and family all shared stories, ate cake, laughed, and honored Hayes for doing what only 10 other living people have done. Hayes set front-and-center, enjoying the moment. And while traditional wisdom says people slow with age, Hayes proved that her wit was as quick as ever.
“There are so many people here,” she remarked. Later, she called attention to Nick Wilkenson (representing Senator Thom Tillis) for staring straight at her.
Hayes was joined by her son, Carlyle Hayes, and his wife. Carlyle spoke about how much his mother meant to him – how they talked every single day… except for yesterday, when they forgot to turn up his mother’s hearing aids and she accidentally hung up on him. Still, he called it a special occasion, and praised how much his mother meant to him.
“I’m blessed beyond measure,” Carlyle said. He spoke about the great care she receives at Brookridge, and how the facility lets him know about every single scratch or bruise. Carlyle said he’s always worried that it might be “the” call, but thankfully, it never has been.
There was one incident, however. When his mother turned 107-years-old, she fell and broke her hip. Initially, doctors said she was too old for surgery; however, upon follow-up, they decided to move ahead with it. She was the oldest person the doctor had ever operated on. And while she lost the ability to dress herself, Carlyle said she was up and walking within weeks.
“And she still has her mind,” Carlyle pointed out, smiling.
For Carlyle, this year holds another special meaning: he’s celebrating his 66th anniversary with his wife; they married in Old Salem all those years ago. And that key Mayor Joines gave to Hayes? It’s an Old Salem replica, designed to remind Sina of her son’s marriage.
Carlyle still visits his mother at least four times a year – Easter, her birthday, October, and Christmas. He used to make the drive from his home in Fort Worth Texas to Winston-Salem in an RV, but since his family recently grounded him from being behind the wheel, he now makes the trip via air travel. More impressive, Carlyle still works full time. At 91-years-old, he’s surpassed the average retirement age by almost 30 years.
Carlyle Hayes attributes his family’s longevity to two things: good genes, and growing up on a farm.
Although many couldn’t be in attendance, various figureheads from the North Carolina political scene sent Sina well-wishes and thanks. A representative from Richard Burr’s office presented Sina with a flag flown over the United States capitol building (complete with certificate of authenticity), and a letter signed by Burr himself that called Sina’s accomplishment an “incredible milestone.” A letter delivered on behalf of Governor McCrory stated, “You represent a generation that helped make our state great.”
Bill Wood, the administrator at Brookridge, spoke proudly of his relationship with Sina Hayes and her family. He shared a humorous anecdote about the time that Sina’s favorite restaurant, Fuddruckers, was shut down, and how he suggested they all go to Hooters instead. Needless to say, they ended up elsewhere (at Northpoint Grill, where the story of Sina’s visit is still proudly hung behind the cash register).
Wood said that the Hayes family means so much to everybody at Brookridge. He also gushed about the community reaction.
“It’s great that people honor someone like her,” Wood concluded, “that people can still learn from and be motivated by somebody at her age.”