Albany resident celebrates 105th birthday

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- An elderly woman in a red dress smiles from underneath the brim of a straw hat, taking in flowers, confetti, and streamers with eyes that have seen more than a century's worth of birthdays.

At age 105, Sallie Burney is an expert on birthdays, and she seems to be enjoying the attention.

Burney lives with her full-time caretaker of 22 years, Armogene Archer. But during the day, Archer says, "She's real active. She gets bored. That's why we go to the [Slater H. King]center."

Slater H. King Adult Day Center nurse Emma Washington says that Burney is a good patient. "She's cooperative," Washington says, "and she can feed herself. She likes to be independent. We have a wheelchair for her for safety but she likes to try to walk".

Archer, like Washington, has noticed Burney's distaste for sitting in a wheelchair. "She hates that thing. That's why it's on the porch."

Washington, who has been seeing Burney "almost every day" for more than five years now, says that she is a very pleasant person and seems happy at the Center.

Likewise, Debra Williams, the activities coordinator at Slater H. King Center, says that Burney is a good patient, even though "...she doesn't talk. But if she hears you and understands, she'll smile. You just have to ask yes or no questions."

Williams says Burney is an active participant in "all that we do here. We do reminiscing, coloring, arts and crafts, light exercise, and religious groups."

When Burney is not at the Slater H. King Center, she is in the care of Archer, who says that Burney gets up at 6 a.m. each day to make her bed and get ready to go to the Center.

Sitting in a wing-backed chair at their shared home, Archer reminisces about Burney's younger days, when she would talk about her experiences throughout the years.

"She used to talk about growing up in Boston, Ga., up in Thomas County," said Archer. "When she first came to live with me, she used to cry to go back there on the weekends. She always said that she wants to be buried in Thomas County."

Archer says that Burney always worked hard to support her family. In her youth, she lived with her adoptive parents and an aunt who owned a funeral home where she swept and helped keep the funeral home clean. As an adult, Burney worked more than 30 years in the laundry department at Archbold Hospital to help her family make ends meet.

"And when she was real young she'd ride a mule and buggy to work.

Honey, can you imagine that?" Archer says, smiling.

Archer says that "Ms. Sallie has always loved to travel. She don't like to be tied down. She always wanted to see the other side of the world. She used to take a train to Philadelphia to visit her son" and that she loved to see the country along the way.

This love to travel has clearly continued into her older years. "When we go somewhere in the car, she stays awake the whole time and watches out the window," Archer said.

Burney's physician, Dr. Derek Heard, is a beloved member of her care team. "She loves Dr. Heard," Archer says. "Just loves him. And he said she's in good shape. I don't think she acts her age and I don't think she looks it neither."

Burney's age has been no deterrent to her appetite. Archer says that "she loves to eat. And she's got to have something sweet. Especially ice cream and stuff like that."

Washington says that Burney is the same way at the Slater H. King Center. "She gets her own food. And she likes to sit in the same place. If someone is in her chair, she'll pout," she said.

Although Burney usually gets her way at the table, there is one thing in her life that she has always yearned for, but can never achieve. Archer says "one of the things she always wanted was to meet her [birth] mother."

But Burney is far from downtrodden. On an overcast summer day, she smiles for pictures and prepares to enjoy some of her favorite sweet treats. "She has a real pleasing, pleasant personality" says Williams, fondly. "We enjoy her coming here."