MICHIGAN CITY – Janie Lee Jones says thanking God and counting one's blessings are the real secrets to health and happiness. And it seems to be working.
Last Saturday, family and friends joined Janie for a party celebrating her 105th birthday – which was July 17.
“I thank the Lord and count my blessings,” she said when asked about the secret to living for more than a century, the last 55 or so in Michigan City.
"We're all hear to say happy birthday to this beautiful lady," Mother Pearline Jenkins told the 100-plus people who attended the event at the HOPE Community Center in honor of the woman they called "The Lady of the Century."
Guests came from all over Northwest Indiana, Chicago, and as far away as Atlanta, Georgia, and Portland, Oregon, to help celebrate.
Among them was Catherine Jackson, whose late mother, Altoria Garron, grew up with, and was best friends with, Janie her whole life.
"They were together forever," Jackson said. "Even when they lived in different cities, they were always talking and planning things. She is, and always will be, a part of our family, too."
Janie said she was surprised – and thankful – so many people came to help her mark the occasion.
Born in Waverly, Arkansas, in 1914, "Janie worked long, hard days in the fields, picking cotton" while living in the South, according to Gerry Jones, who helped organize the event with her husband, the Rev. John Jones, who is Janie's grandson and served as master of ceremonies.
She was married for over 60 years to Jessie Jones until his death in 1994. The couple moved to Michigan City in 1953, and she just kept working, Gerry Jones said.
"After moving to Michigan City, she held many jobs over the years, including Maxine and Hines, domestic work, Beatty Memorial Hospital [now Westville Correctional Center], Alex’s Truck Stop in New Buffalo, and finally retiring from the Michigan City Police Department."
But perhaps her most important job "was helping to raise four generations of Jones children."
And that's a lot of kids. Janie is the mother of one, grandmother of three, great-grandmother of eight, and great-great-grandmother of 18.
"All have experienced being rocked to sleep in the 'Cadillac Lap'," Gerry Jones said.
Her grandchildren, and "all of their friends, along with her neighbors, remember and loved her famous six-layer chocolate and caramel cakes," she said. "All someone had to do was ask, and there it was, ready the next morning."
Janie wasn't cooking on Saturday, of course, but there was plenty of food for the crowd, which didn't seem to mind the heat in the auditorium of the former Park School.
They enjoyed a great meal, a musical performance by Fitzpatrick, and took part in a prayer led by the Rev. Dr. Laura Lea and the Rev. Thomas Payton. After dinner they shared stories and memories of Janie, and presented some special gifts.
Throughout her life, Janie has had a special place in her heart for her church family, many of whom were among the crowd on Saturday.
For the past 30 years, she's been a member of Life Temple Church of God in Christ, and was previously a member of Community Church of Deliverance and Rock of Ages Baptist Church.
And when people ask her the secret to living more than 100 years, she always gives the same two answers.
"Her favorite words are 'Thank the Lord' and 'Count your blessings',' grandson Lloyd Jones said in welcoming the crowd.
"She is quick to tell you, several times in one conversation, 'I thank the Lord and count my blessings'," Gerry Jones agreed.
"And then, she loves to end each conversation with 'Do the best you can; after that, you can’t do no more'," she said.
"It's wise advice that has withstood the test of time," Gerry Jones said. "How we love Grandma Janie! And we get to give her all her flowers while she yet lives."