'Sister Ollie' surprised by party on birthday

September 07, 2004|EMILY BURTON

She has catered to penitentiary inmates and Centre College presidents, while plenty in Danville have tasted her famous chicken n' dumplings. But after 70 years of faithful service to the church and others, Sister Ollie Mae Tresenwriter Napier had her first surprise birthday party Saturday.

"She'll be 85, and never had a birthday party in her life," said her daughter Lydia Napier. She's served the church 70-some years, served Danville 60-some years, "and I wanted her to have her day," her daughter said.

Friends and family of Ollie Mae Napier gathered at The Church of God of America with laud and cameras to celebrate her 85 years of life. A representative of the mayor's office presented her the key to the city.

"A Godly woman," proclaimed the program. "A strong independent woman of faith, tenacity and perseverance."

While her service to the community and church is renown, her cooking also has become a local landmark. Her daughters, who organized the event, had trouble picking just one favorite of her dishes but knew her dedication to the meals.


"She always made dessert, just about every day, 'cause she loves sweets herself," said daughter Charlotte Napier.

"Pillar of the church," said Bishop George Alexander, and "still going strong."

Ollie Mae Napier's lengthy cooking career has included feeding presidents of Centre College and inmates at Northpoint.

To many, she is simply Nanny

But to many in the community, she is simply known as Nanny, said Wanda Meaux. Meaux thought the celebration was well deserved for the very humble, church-going Nanny.

"This is something she would never expect to be done for herself," Meaux said.

During the exuberant, and at times moving, celebration, figures throughout her life spoke highly of her dedication and presented her countless flowers, cards, a hand drawn picture of her and her late husband, and a tree of love with money clipped to each branch.

Those who couldn't attend sent letters of praise. McDowell House staff wrote their thanks for her service, saying she had been a huge culinary part of so many other celebrations there, "enjoy this one for yourself."

Ollie Mae Napier also was named a Kentucky Colonel. Her neighbor and president of the Danville chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Colonel Norman Bartleson, presented her the title.

"The reporter asked what kind of neighbor was she. I said, she stopped me from partying," laughed Bartleson. "... She's got a heart on her that won't fade away."

Elder Eric Barnes agreed. As a child, he would come to stay overnight at her house with his little suitcase half filled, said Barnes, and she would take him shopping to fill the bag. Barnes seemed to echo much of the group's sentiments when he told Napier, "You know I haven't forgot, and I love you and appreciate everything you've done for me."

Ollie Mae Napier beamed as she took the microphone and thanked the group for their friendships and support. She had been told that she was coming to the church's 85th birthday celebration and to wear something that would show up in pictures. When she entered the crowded room, she was speechless for a long moment. Her hand rested briefly on her heart and then covered her mouth in astonishment.

"I was excited, seeing all these people here," Napier said, including her brother and niece who had flown in from California for the surprise party.

Napier closed the presentations and led the group to cake with words to live by.

"You got to live this life every day. You got to treat everybody right," Napier said, her Sunday hat sparkling. "The Lord is good, and I'm looking for the Lord to keep me long as he wants to ... Ya'll pray for me, 'cause I'm looking, looking, looking, looking, looking to live again."

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