Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Miracle of long living

        People are living longer. The 2000 head count reports a 35 percent increase in the number of Americans who reached the age of 100. Still, Sadie Cooper is something of a miracle.

        When she was born Feb. 7, 1894, the average person in this country died at age 47. There were 44 states in the union. Jell-O and Campbell Soup hadn't been invented. Grover Cleveland was president. This was very long ago indeed.

        “I feel so good, I can hardly believe it myself,” she says. Born in Marshall, Mo., she was 6 years old when her father became a policeman. “He wasn't allowed to arrest anyone but his own people.” Her mother was a teacher, using “books handed down from the white kids.” So, naturally, when Sadie Cooper came to the Cincinnati area in l993 — at the age of 99 — she went to work on the scholarship committee at her church, Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church in Forest Park. There, she is known as Mother Cooper, a term of respect and affection. And admiration.

        Mother Cooper is recovering from “an awful fall” last July, two days after Sadie Cooper Day in West Chester, where she was living with her late son's oldest granddaughter. But, typically, she has found a silver lining of sorts. “I could have broken my neck. But it just set me back a little.”

        Now, she lives at West Chester Health Center. “Gee, you're in for a treat,” says the staffer who directs me to Mother Cooper's room. “Everybody loves her.”

Entrepreneur, volunteer

        She is expecting me, and gets right down to it. She remembers, very distinctly, places and dates. And names, especially names, although there have been so many. Family, church people, politicians, customers. A full life, but not an easy one. By the time she was 20, she owned a beauty shop, which “put my son through school.” Her first husband, a railroad porter, died of a heart attack when their son was 5.

        After 50 years of standing on her feet, working on women's hair, “I married a rich old farmer.” She gives a high-pitched whoop of delight. This freed up her time to volunteer for the Red Cross. She became a Deaconess in her church and served for several years on various Democratic committees. Shortly after she arrived here, she “adopted” Courtis Fuller, who lost the recent election to Mayor Charlie Luken.

        “I told him it was too soon,” she says. “I knew he couldn't win. But at least he shook things up a little.”

        A grin, which shows her dimple to great advantage. Her face is smooth, devoid of makeup. “I always liked to be natural. Never smoked or drank.” There is, she says, no secret to her long and exquisitely vital life. In fact, she wants to tell everybody:

        “It's God.”

        And, as a sort of an early Christmas present, she recites one of her favorite Bible passages, the second chapter of Luke: “In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus ... ” Her voice is strong and clear, every word as it was written.

        She sits there, peacefully, her strong brown fingers laced in her lap, atop a thick fuchsia robe. The morning sun illuminates her nimbus of white hair. It is an indelible image. Sadie Cooper, mother and Mother, entrepreneur, volunteer, preacher, political consultant, thoroughly joyful person.

        Something of a miracle.

        E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/pulfer.


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