Former Goshen valedictorian turns 100 years young

Published 10:49 pm Friday, July 27, 2012

Years ago, Velma Folmar Hightower’s hair was flaming red.

“They accused redheads of having hot tempers but I don’t think I did,” Hightower said with a gleam in her eye that suggested maybe she was wrong.

Hightower will celebrate her 100th birthday on Sunday at the Luverne Health and Rehabilitation Center and she still has her quick-witted way.

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As a centenarian, the Pike County native desires only to see better and to be able to read.

“That’s what I miss the most – reading,” Hightower said and added with a smile that she used to read love stories. “Now, I just turn on CBS and let it ride.”

Although she doesn’t pay a lot of attention to the television, it’s company.

“To hear it, I’d have to turn it up so loud it would disturb my neighbor, so I keep it turned down,” Hightower said. “Don’t care about hearing it anyway. But I do wish I could see better so I could read, especially the cards that I get.”

Hightower was excited about the birthday cards that she has received and is looking forward to her “big” party on Sunday.

“My daughter will be here and I don’t know who all but I’ll be glad to see them,” she said.

Hightower is originally from “out in the country” in Goshen.

“When I was growing up, times were hard,” she said. “My daddy did all he could but it wasn’t enough. There just wasn’t any money to be made. But we had food to eat because we grew it and we had hand-me-down clothes. We did it all – from milking cows and gathering eggs to picking cotton and shaking peanuts. We worked hard from sunup to sundown.

“We didn’t have ice back then so my mama would let a pitcher of milk down in the well to get it cool and it was so good,” Hightower said. “And, I remember when we got a bath tub installed. We thought we were rich because all that time we’d been bathing in a pan.”

School was a luxury and Hightower graduated from Goshen High School the first year it was accredited.

“I was the valedictorian of my class,” Hightower said with a smile. “We had 10 in the class, one boy and nine girls.”

Hightower said she wanted to go to college, but “That’s all it was – a want.”
So, she went to work for the telephone company.

Hightower had a special connection to the telephone company. Not only did she work for the company, she met her husband who was the telephone repairman that came “calling” after first fixing the family’s telephone.

Robert Louis Hightower moved his bride from the Goshen countryside to the city life of Birmingham

“We were there for 30 years and I loved it,” Hightower said. “Our daughter was born there. We had a good life.”

After her husband died, Hightower said she made the best of things.

“My daughter moved to Texas and wanted me to go out there, but I told her that I didn’t want to die in Texas,” Hightower said with a smile.

Hightower said her mother and her sister were residents of the Luverne Health and Rehabilitation Center and that was where she wanted to be.

“I grew up a hardshell Baptist but I married a Methodist. I like going to the church services they have here,” Hightower said. “I play Bingo and I really like that, too. And, the people are so good and kind to me. This is where I want to spend my last days.”

Hightower said she knows that she had been blessed to live 100 years and to see so many changes in the world.

She grew up riding a mule and wagon and later flew on an airplane.

“I never thought I would ever go up in the sky like that,” she said. “I never thought I would live to be 100 years old either. That’s been a big surprise.”

So there will be no “surprise” party for Velma Hightower on Sunday. She’s already been surprised but she plans to have the best birthday ever. And, that says a lot when it’s birthday number 100.