Jessie Pearce, of Sherman, was 94 when she was diagnosed with the West Nile virus. Six years later, Pearce celebrated her 100th birthday. West Nile commonly spread by mosquitoes and can be serious and sometimes fatal, especially in those over 60, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.
Pearce was well past that milestone as she celebrated her birthday with a party Saturday at the Finley Theater in Sherman.
Pearce, who was born on Sept. 17, 1918, and lives unassisted in her home, is no stranger to death and life-changing events. Pearce’s mother died in childbirth when Pearce was 2 and, her father, a World War I veteran, died when she was 14.
On a dare from her cousin, Pearce took a dive from a two-story step ladder on her grandfather’s farm when she was 6 and eventually lost all feeling in her lower body.
“I developed spinal tuberculosis,” Pearce said. “The doctors said that I would be dead within a year, but my grandfather, he was a faith doctor. He was a Methodist minister. He took me to a chiropractor and eventually, I got the feeling back in my body and learned to walk again.”
From then on, Pearce did not miss a step. She jumped into elementary school in the third grade and graduated from high school when she was 16.
“The earliest memory I have was standing in the pew near my father during church in Sadler,” she said. “I am surprised I remember that.”
She went on to attend the University of North Texas. She got married in 1938 and saw more than 60 years of marriage with her husband until he died at the age of 91. About 50 of those years, the couple lived in the same house in Denton together. They had six children.
“My husband and I helped start two Methodist churches in Denton,” she said. “My grandfather was a Methodist minister. I had an uncle and an uncle by marriage that were Methodist ministers. So I was born a Methodist and I am still a Methodist. My father was a Sunday school superintendent in Sadler for many years.”
Pearce was a homemaker while her children were growing up. When she felt it was time, she began working outside of the home at a bookstore in Denton. She retired from that location at 73.
“I always wanted my children to know to do the best that they can,” she said. “Whatever comes up, do the best you can and then do not worry too much about it. If you cannot do more, do not worry about it because it won’t change it.”
It was not until her husband’s health was declining that the couple moved to Sherman.
Still, Pearce believes in the importance of exercising the mind. She loves reading novels and has three floor-to-ceiling bookcases in her bedroom. She also loves crossword puzzles and reading the newspaper.
“I was just raised that education is important,” she said.
Pearce still plays the piano. She loves quilting and still owns the first quilt she worked on along with a quilt her grandmother made before she got married.
Pearce’s birthday celebration included her six children, Nana Rylands of Sherman, Paula Brown of Bonham, Ginger Gay and husband John of Rockport, Sue Ponder of Denison, Richard Pearce and wife Arlene, and Dan Pearce and wife Genie of Kingwood, eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
“I am really excited about the people I am going to see,” Pearce said Saturday before her party. “Some of the people I have not seen in quite a while.”
Pearce has a refrigerator ornament that she feels adequately describes her life, “God wanted me to accomplish a certain number of things in my lifetime and right now, I am so far behind, I will never die.”
Ponder said that there is no question as to why her mother had lived so long.
“She once said to me, ‘I don’t know why God has kept me this long,’” Ponder said. “I told her it is because she brings us peace. We need her.”
Ponder said that as soon as the family finishes celebrating Pearce’s 100 years, they are going to start planning her 110th birthday.
“She has experienced some miracles in her life,” daughter Sue Ponder of Denison said on Saturday. “She had her 90th birthday party at the Finley, and we are returning for her 100th.”