Affectionately called “Granny” by just about everyone who knows her, Ilease Elizabeth Johnson of Vale, turns 100 years old today. Born at home on Aug. 9, 1919 to Gertrude Amelia Gilbert and William Daniel Gilbert, Johnson was one of eight children. She went to “an old school house over on 27” through the ninth grade. Like so many children during those times, she didn’t have any purchased toys and really not a whole lot of time to play. She spent much of her time helping her family raise food for themselves and their livestock and run their farm.
“We just played in the gullies and swung on the grape vines,” she said. “We didn’t have things to play with. We had our own cows and horses and everything. I picked cotton and pulled fodder and corn, cut tops and then we’d haul them in to the animals. On Saturdays we’d sit out on the porch and rock.”
As soon as she was old enough, Johnson started working at a sock factory in Hickory, doing “a little bit of everything.”
Johnson got married at 18 years old to Paul Johnson and had five children. The family ran a dairy on Reepsville Road until her husband died in 1972 and she sold the farm. She went back to work at the sock factory until she was hired by Lincoln County hospital where she was employed for 19 years until she retired at 65 years old. Johnson never remarried, spending her time working and caring for her brother, Arthur Gilbert, during a long illness, and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Johnson raised one grandchild, Melissa Johnson Gentry, and taught her how to make dolls out of grass and to can vegetables. Even though she has arthritis in her hands, Johnson would spend hours with Gentry snapping green beans to can.
Johnson has seven living grandchildren, two step-grandchildren, 11 great grandchildren, three step-grandchildren, seven great-great grandchildren and one step-great-great grandchild.
During her adult life, Johnson travelled extensively, having visited most of the states. She is the oldest member of Trinity Lutheran Church and at one time, she would walk to church on Sunday mornings.
Continuing to live by herself in Vale, Johnson loves her Honey Bee snuff, gardening and canning, baking pound cake and is famous for her chocolate pound cake. She does all her own housecleaning and keeps an immaculate home. She’s lovingly looked after by Gentry and other family members and her neighbors.
“I guess the Lord just wanted me to live,” she said. “Everybody just calls me ‘Granny.’”