It was a grand occasion Sunday afternoon in Corning Therapy and Living Center as many friends and family members paid tribute to Mrs. Letha Rice Veach on her 105th birthday.
Family members recalled previous observances and milestones achieved by Mrs. Veach, particularly those of the 99th and 100th birthday celebrations that drew many folks together in her honor.
It was on one occasion Mrs. Veach addressed the group saying, "I left Arkansas at the age of three and was gone for 15 years. That would have made me 18-years old when I came back and I've been here ever since. I've traveled to every state in the Union except Hawaii, and Arkansas is definitely the best of all of them."
Relating stories of the past has always been a trait of Mrs. Veach and a lot of these stories have been shared with school classes, civic organizations and church groups.
After all, 105 years of living can produce many interesting events in one's life, many of which Mrs. Veach readily avails.
Born south of Manila in the Delta of Mississippi County January 23, 1907, as a young girl, she and her family joined relatives from Corning (Nancy Jane Moore and sons Dave, Sam and Morgan) to seek work in Oklahoma and traveled by covered wagon to reach their destination.
Just after her 18th birthday, she returned to Manila and enrolled in classes sponsored by Home Demonstration clubs, then joined the Lost Cane Community HDC. Later, and as long as an Extension Homemakers' Club existed in the Corning area, which was until just a few years ago, she attended all meetings and participated in their activities.
In 1949 Mrs. Veach became a member of Eastern Star and holds dual membership, Corning and Blytheville. Over the years, she has held many Eastern Star positions.
Mrs. Veach was instrumental in helping organize the first Missionary Baptist church in Mississippi County, which stands today as evidence of her spiritual commitment. "I know the Lord and He knows me," serves as a testimony wherever she goes.
Numerous articles have been written about her and published in Clay County Courier and others newspapers, Eastern Star newsletters and more.
In many of these articles she relates an early experience of seeing Bill Cody's Wild West Show at its Oklahoma headquarters. "There he was using a whip to cut the cigarette from the mouth of a man," Mrs.
Veach recalled. "That was a great performance and we were able to walk around these people as they did their tricks." She became a full-time Corning resident more than 25 years ago when she moved into the home of her daughter, Rayo Edwards. Her connections in Corning began much earlier as her family established a nursing home in Corning along with those in Manila and Blytheville.
After reestablishing in Corning she continued her lifestyle of remaining active in church, Extension Homemakers' activities, and Eastern Star, all of which have played a major role in what she calls a "successful life."
Mrs. Veach and her husband Roy brought the first nursing home to Corning many decades ago. It remained in the same location as Corning Nursing Home, then Corning Nursing and Rehab Center and other names operated by the Veach and Edwards families until ownership changed in late 1996.
Travel was always one highlight for Mrs. Veach. She recalled, "I have traveled from Alaska and Canada to San Antonio, TX and from coast to coast. I've been to all famous attractions and in every cave in the country, some of them more than once."
For decades she has collected dolls and at one time they numbered well into the thousands. Mrs. Veach stated, "I had some dolls that are 80 years old, and several complete sets of dolls and probably over 1,000."
She always enjoyed speaking before groups, large or small and was certainly an attraction worth inviting to school classrooms.
During one visit to Central Elementary School Mrs. Veach explained she has lived through some of the most famous tragedies in American history, including the sinking of the Titanic, two world wars, the Great Depression and the influenza epidemic of 1918 which wiped out much of the population and is considered the worst epidemic plague in American history.
After speaking for 30 minutes, Mrs. Veach answered questions students had ranging from memories of the first automobiles and televisions to driving tests.
She told students she has never been required to take a driving test to receive her driver's license. She turned 16 in 1923 and tests were not given at that time.
Yes, she has outlived many of her friends, and as she put it, "All members of the Eastern Star chapter when I began are gone. One bad part of getting older, you lose all those friends you grew up with."