Our Eldest Elder: 103-year-old Rachel Terry

Our Eldest Elder: 103-year-old Rachel Terry

Imagine living to the ripe old age of 103, with all of your faculties intact, and still enjoying life to its fullest. That’s Mrs. Rachel Terry, without a doubt the eldest Elder of the North End Elder Program.

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These beautiful ladies look like sisters, but Mrs. Rachel Terry (left) is an impressive 103 years old, and her daughter, Terese Terrell (right), a vibrant 71.

Mrs. Terry lives with her daughter, Terese Terrell, in Mansfield. Mrs. Terrell is in her 70s, but has a generous dose of her mother’s genes, seeming decades younger and full of life. Mrs. Terrell looks after her mother with a tenderness, and guards her with a ferocity, that any of us would be fortunate to have in a caregiver.

When asked her age, Mrs. Terry turned to her daughter and asked, “How old am I?”

“I don’t keep track of it anymore,” said Mrs. Terry, “It doesn’t bother me. What you see is what you get.”


Born in Roanoke, Virginia, her family moved to Ohio when she was still an infant. She grew up in Columbus, Ohio. Mrs. Terry’s parents passed away when she was very young, and she lived in a children’s home for much of her childhood. She was later adopted by an affluent couple in Columbus. “They were entrepreneurs,” added Mrs. Terrell, “and they ran the Litchford Hotel.”

As an adult, Mrs. Terry worked as a nurse at St. Anthony’s Hospital in Columbus. “I lived right in front of the hospital. Every time I saw the ambulance pass…I knew they were going to call me. It was hard then, things were different. Not everyone had jobs or could even find jobs.”

After her retirement, Mrs. Terry lived with another daughter for thirty years in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. “I just played there, that wasn’t really anything,” she said, later recalling that she had worked as an Emergency Room nurse there. “I really liked it,” she added.

“I had a good life. It was difficult. People were always feeling sorry for me. I don’t know why. I was perfectly happy,” she laughed.

When asked to talk more about her life, Mrs. Terry replied, “I’m sure it was very interesting to somebody, but to me it just happened.”

From segregation to the automobile, Mrs. Terry shares some memories

At 103, Mrs. Terry has seen many changes in society. She recalled her time at the children’s home during segregation, when organizations would offer outings to the children. “I would hear the employees talk about restrictions,” she said. “The superintendent who ran the place decided he wasn’t having that. He would never leave his Black children behind. He made it a point to take all of us.”

Mrs. Terry spoke fondly of using candles to light her Christmas tree as a child, noting that once the electric string lights were available, they were far too expensive for many.

The same could be said for home lighting, “They were expensive, all kinds of lights, when they first came out,” she said. “First we had candles, then we had [oil] lamps, and you had to keep the chimneys clean…that was my job.”

“Time was very different back then, and I didn’t notice the change,” she said, lost in thought. “But I didn’t notice much of anything, and still don’t. Things just happen. I accept them and move on.”

When asked about television, she replied, “People were lucky if they had a radio, everybody didn’t, and then when television came, that was a big thing…we thought it was wonderful.”

As for the automobile, Mrs. Terry said they were sparse in her childhood. “I remember, coming up, that we used to sit on the porch and watch the different cars go by and name all of them – all three of them,” she said with a laugh. “That was our pastime.”


Asked about the most amazing thing she has seen as technology has progressed, Mrs. Terry replied, “They keep on making stuff. It doesn’t bother me. It takes care of itself.

You don’t know it yet, but once you get older, it doesn’t really matter. Things come and go and pass and change, and you can’t get set on any one particular thing because they have something new before you know it, and you have to learn how to deal with that.”

She added, “Do the best you can with what you have, and always try to do better. That’s it. That’s how I make it through all these changes and crap that I don’t understand. Once you’ve been around a while, you have seen a lot of things, but you handle them to the best of your ability.”


So what does a 103-year-old woman enjoy?

“Everything!” she exclaimed. “I like to do something. I like to go someplace – every place! And I’ve been a lot of places. But I don’t do much anymore. I don’t see people, I don’t have friends. Everything is different. It’s a different life, so you adjust.”

Mrs. Terry said she does have friends at the North End Elder Program, and enjoys going. “But it’s not often enough,” she said. 

She suggested several ideas for new events at the Elder Program, including a dance. NECIC Community Organizer Kay Smith, who facilitates the Elder Program, absolutely loved the idea, and the dance is tentatively scheduled as a Senior Prom for June.

Mrs. Terry noted her favorite thing about the North End Elder Program, “My favorite thing is the fact that we come out, not often enough, but to get together. To be out, to be among people, to see what everybody’s doing, to hear their tales, to just interact, I think that’s nice. It would be nice if somebody sponsored some trips or something – something to do.”

necic, north end, 103 year old, eldersMrs. Terry enjoys many hobbies, including stained glass projects.

Of course, the burning question is: What advice do you have for those of us to want to live to be 103?

Mrs. Terry’s response is one of wisdom, grace, and humor, “Mind your own business. Keep smiling, because it’s not really that important anyhow; nobody cares. Take a deep breath, put that smile on, and get right on back out there, kicking butts.”


Are you age 60 or over and interested in being a part of the NECIC North End Elder Program? The group meets twice monthly for a catered luncheon. For more details, give us a call at 419-525-3101.

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