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Did Bossier have one of the oldest living US citizens?

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Haughton resident recently passed away at 114 years old

By Stacey Tinsley, stinsley@bossierpress.com

Before her passing, a Haughton resident might have been one of the oldest living people in the country.

Mrs. Ophelia Williams Burks passed away on September 27, 2018 at the age of 114. She lived and experienced a life that many have only read about in history books.

Born on October 25, 1903 to Frank Williams and Mary Ann Hartman, Ophelia lived through 18 presidents, two world wars, the Great Depression, the space race, women’s suffrage, and African Americans given the right vote.

Having been born and lived in Haughton during her life, it’s safe to say that she will be missed by many, including the local those in the Haughton community.

Haughtons Mayor Jack Hicks said “The Town of Haughton is honored to remember the life of Ophelia Williams Burks. She dedicated her life to service in the church and community and made every one of the 114 years that she had on this Earth count. We extend our greatest respect to Ophelia and our deepest sympathies to her family.”

Mrs. Ophelia Burks

On Aug. 10, 2004 the Bossier Parish Library Historical Center interviewed Ophelia inquiring and documenting her life’s experiences. Here are a few of the thoughts she shared with the Bossier Parish Library Historical Center.

“I was born October 25, 1903. We had a farm. That’s where I was raised up on a farm. We all raised what we had to eat. Didn’t hardly go to the store and buy nothing. At that time, you have to raise for what you had at that time,” said Ophelia.

Ophelia never graduated from primary school as her family didn’t have enough money to buy school supplies for each of their children. Ophelia had three brothers and eight sisters. All of Ophelia siblings have been deceased as of 2004.

“I didn’t go to school that much ‘cause I was in the third grade ‘cause I didn’t go to school that much then ‘cause they didn’t, you know…at that time my daddy had so many children you couldn’t hardly, you had to buy the little books and thangs that you had to read and I didn’t get the books and thangs. I just…third grade,” said Ophelia.

Ophelia had only a third grade education from a two room school in Haughton. She mainly taught herself how to read, write and spell.

“In those times, you’d have to teach yourself ‘cause I learned how to read, learned how to write, learned how to spell a little bit. ‘Course I could do pretty good. I really could do pretty good. And still, I can do pretty good. In those times, you had to work. The children in those time didn’t get chance to go to school like the children does now. And when the school be about five miles from you, you had to walk there. No way to ride, no way to ride, ” said Ophelia.

However, her lack of a formal education did not prevent her from excelling in all aspects of her eventful life. She became a faithful member of Rocky Mount Baptist Church of Haughton. She served on the Deaconess board, was a choir member, and served in any other position that was needed.

Throughout her life, Ophelia strongly emphasized the importance of education to her children and grandchildren in order to prepare them for a diverse and constantly changing world.

During the Great Depression, Ophelia stated to have worked for 50 cents a day picking cotton and having come through such a terrible time in history because of her faith and trust in the Lord.

“Oh the Depression. At that time…you know one thang? I have worked for 50 cents a day. One hundred pounds of cotton. Seventy-five cent for a hundred, pick a hundred pounds of cotton. I come through ‘cause the Lord was so good to me. He’s bringing me and still bringing me. Oh my Lord! Always say, “Put the Lord first.” That’s what brought me up like I am now. All it is, I don’t have a brother living, sister living, I don’t have a auntie living, I don’t have a cousin. I don’t have none of those living. I’m the only one of all of those still living. Always put Jesus first,” said Ophelia.

Ophelia stated in her interview with the Bossier Parish Library Historical Center that her grandmother, who was of Native American ancestry, didn’t speak English and Ophelia couldn’t understand her language when she was growing up. Ophelia stated that her grandmother passed away at the age of 120.

Before her eyesight failed, Ophelia enjoyed watching Tiger Woods play golf, former President Barack Obama give speeches, and reading her Bible.

Per the Gerontology Research Group (GRG) web site, it is unconfirmed of Ophelia’s actual age. It is unclear if Ophelia’s age has remained unconfirmed due to improper documentation or conflicting past interviews reports indicating the year of her birth.

The Gerontology Wiki is a collaborative encyclopedia about Gerontology, the study of human aging and longevity, with focus for everything related to Supercentenarians, Longevity, and the oldest living people in the country.

According to Gerontology Wiki, Lessie Brown is a validated American supercentenarian. She is the oldest known living person in the United States and the last validated American born in 1904. Brown became the oldest known living person in the United States upon the death of Delphine Gibson on May 9, 2018.

Ophelia is survived by her children, grandchildren and her great grandchildren.