Helen Blanchard just gained access to an elite group of seven on the campus of Oak Hammack at the University of Florida: the centenarian club.
Blanchard will turn 100 years old tomorrow, June 19, but family and friends celebrated Friday afternoon with cake, lots of chocolate and a little bourbon—at Blanchard’s request.
Linda Jacoby, Blanchard’s daughter, credits her mom’s long life to family genes. Blanchard had a number of aunts who also lived past the century mark.
Jacoby said her mom has outlasted three good men, another trait that prompted the family joke that the men in the family don’t make it past 50.
“Mom always had a sense of adventure,” Jacoby said.
Sometimes, the family would move in the middle of the school year, from Mississippi to New York and back to Mississippi, and Jacoby said she can still pack a moving truck because of it.
Blanchard also lived and worked in multiple spots in Virginia, Tennessee and Florida.
“She’s the kindest person, and I don’t think I can beat that,” Jacoby said.
The birthday party also acted as a family reunion. Jacoby hadn’t seen her mother in three years, and Blanchard’s grandson, Bob Helms, last saw his grandmother over two decades ago.
Family came from Chattanooga, Tenn., Mobile and Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Maryland.
Blanchard grew up in Mississippi’s delta region and attended Delta State Teachers College. She kept that career path throughout her life, teaching special education at different schools and receiving her doctorate in education from the University of Virginia.
“She’s tough and bold and just the kind of strong woman that a lot of people would look at and admire,” said Bob Chichester, Blanchard’s nephew.
While waiting to dig into the cake, a nurse offered a water bottle. Blanchard declined and asked for bourbon instead.
“I didn’t know she was drinking,” Jacoby said.
“It’s her birthday,” Helms said. “Grandma can have bourbon.”