GIBSON CITY - Kindergarten and first-grade students at GCMS Elementary School marked their 101st day of school by hearing what school was like for Lillian Harris of Melvin. She was also celebrating 101 - years, that is.
Harris, a lifelong resident of Ford County, celebrated her 101st birthday Thursday. Both to commemorate the occasion and to foster learning between the generations, GCMS teacher Donna Lee suggested extending the school's annual 100-day celebration to its 101st day.
Students gathered Friday morning in the school's media center while Principal Shellie Overman conducted the interview using questions previously submitted by the youngsters. She introduced the school's "very special visitor," explaining that Harris still lives in her Melvin home. In fact, it's been home to her for 50 years.
The children were surprised to hear that Harris had no television during her childhood. In fact, she explained that radio was a new item in her family's household during her youth.
Creating fun was a necessity during Harris' childhood - no elaborate playground equipment or organized sports existed, just school-yard games children made up with their teacher.
With most of today's students used to being driven to school by auto or bus, they listened carefully as she explained how cutting across fields shortened a two-mile walk to her one-room country school in the Roberts area.
She also had a different meaning in mind when she referred to "learning to drive." Harris, of course, meant learning to drive real horse power, hitched to a buggy. Her first horse as a teenager was fearful of the new-fangled automobile and part of her "driving lessons" included learning to quickly hop out of the buggy to hold the frightened animal by its bridle, lest she lose her ride.
Harris is a graduate of the former Roberts High School. She told of going to the Ford County courthouse in Paxton to take an exam that allowed her to teach school - no college required. She subsequently filled out the school term for a departing teacher in Melvin.
However, rules of the era forbid teachers to be married, so that short stint would turn out to be her only teaching experience when she soon chose to marry Ira Harris, her husband for more than 40 years.
Harris and her husband would later have many more contacts with Melvin area schoolchildren, however. Ira Harris was a janitor for the Melvin school district and Harris was a cafeteria worker there for many years.
The Melvin community and her family are important to Harris' quality of life, she said. She told the audience that good neighbors and the close-knit community help her to remain independent.