Wilson Stillwell turns 101, honored by Eagles
Wilson Stillwell turns 101 Thursday. His birthday celebration began last week with a party at the Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie 2523 located at 802 North 28th Street in Orange. There will be another party at 2 p.m., Sunday in Vidor at the Holiday Inn Express at which the public is invited to come join the celebration.
Born on Jan. 23, 1913 to Joseph Berry Stillwell and Maggie Massey, Stillwell came from Soaper, Okla., but has been in Texas most of his life. “I’ve lived in Arkansas, Louisiana, even Kansas one time. I’ve worked everywhere.”
He has four sons ranging in ages from 51 to 72. He and his wife Clara Hill Stillwell were married 67 years before she passed away in 2007. Mr. Stillwell has lost count of all his grandchildren, but he has some he said he has never seen and has several great-great-great-grandchildren, which most people never live to see.
“I’ve got some kinfolks in Arkansas that’s my great-great-greats walking around. They’re 3 or 4 years old.”
When asked what he thought was the secret to his longevity, he said,” I don’t know. A fellow on television tells what people ought to do and eat and everything to live a long time and the biggest part of them things I don’t do,” he laughed. “So it don’t work for everybody. I don’t drink and I don’t smoke, now,” he said. “I quit smoking and drinking when I was 85. That’s been a long time ago. I didn’t drink when I was young either.”
Stillwell said a woman at the party last week said, “I haven’t ever seen a man that good-looking that was 100 years old.”
He told her that told him two things about her. “Your eyesight is bad and you haven’t seen very many 100-year-old men, but I thank you anyway.”
Many Pinehurst dignitaries were on hand to honor Stillwell at the Eagles last week and even the fire department was on hand with a fire truck.
“You should have seen his eyes light up, he was like a little kid when he saw the fire truck,” said Sharon Bodin of the Eagles.
Stillwell has been a member of the Eagles since 1974 and has held all the offices except president and secretary. Currently he holds the office of conductor.
He said when he transferred his membership to the Eagles from Vidor to Pinehurst they wanted him to run for secretary.
“You fellas are making a mistake,” he said. “I’m semi-illiterate and you just don’t know it’”
Like many of his generation, he was not able to finish school. He had to drop out in the 7th grade to go to work to help his family.
He was a carpenter by trade, but came about it just taking care of things around the house when he was a kid. “I was the oldest kid.” If the stairs were broken, he had to fix them. If the screen door didn’t close properly, it fell to him to get it straight. He learned carpentry just keeping his home in working order.
“I done all of it. I built houses, worked a long time trimming out insides.”
He retired at 65 because the rules for Social Security were about to change and if he continued working he would have gotten a smaller check when he retired further down the road. ”I didn’t want to quit.”
Nowadays, he would have no choice, because he is almost blind with muscular degeneration. But that doesn’t prevent him from performing his duties as a conductor at the Eagles.
“He has his part memorized,” said Bodin, “and everybody else’s too. If you mess it up, he’s going to let you know and correct you,” she said with a laugh. “He’s something.”
Stillwell lives in Vidor with his oldest son, Roy, in the home he and Clara shared. There is nothing really left on his bucket list. “I’ve never ridden in an airplane. I’ve had my chances, but I didn’t want to.” He said he has been given offers of a ride, but he has turned them all down.
Wilson Stillwell turns 101 Thursday. This picture was taken last year at age 100.