Beacon - Ask her the secrets to a long life, and Ophelia Chambers is fast to respond: never being married, having faith in God and knowing every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.
That recipe has proved successful for Chambers, who celebrated her 106th birthday Sunday amongst a large gathering of family and friends at The Wingate nursing home. Carrying the distinction of the oldest living member in the Chambers’ family, Ophelia’s century plus milestone has included a lifetime of both personal and professional achievements.
Born in Semora, North Carolina on October 9, 1905 (relatives possess a copy of the census register to attest to the fact), Chambers, one of six siblings, came to Roseton, New York around 1930. Soon after, she settled in nearby Newburgh. Her initial position as a housekeeper was for a local doctor who had no children. She next applied her housekeeping as well as child-rearing skills working for the Cohen family. For 23 years, she diligently and compassionately cared for the three Cohen children.
In many ways epitomizing the women from the movie "The Help," Chambers approached her child rearing responsibilities with a special touch, transcending professional obligation.
"I loved changing the kids’ diapers and doing everything having to do with raising them," said Chambers. "I treated them as if they were my own."
Chambers herself never had any children, nor did she marry, but she devoted years to having a deep influence on youngsters. In addition to the Cohen trio, she also helped raise her sister’s grandchild, as well as being a regular presence in the lives of her nieces and nephews. Several of them were on hand Sunday to pay tribute to a woman they have been proud to know for so long.
"I most remember her as a sharp dresser, who was always very petite and poised as well as a strong disciplinarian," said Chambers’ niece Carol Taylor, whose father Howard was Ophelia’s older brother. "She would make regular trips to visit all of her brothers, who she was very close to, in North Carolina. She is just such a very sweet person, who is little in size, but very big-hearted, the kind of person you talk about all the time."
That person sat in a wheelchair in front of the Recreation Room at Wingate Sunday afternoon, once again dressed sharply, and as always, poised and alert. Able to recall countless stories from years ago, her mind remains sharp and active. Her strong bill of health enabled her to live alone into her 90’s. When her sight began to fade, she moved in with her niece, Barbara Smith, staying with her until the age of 100. Faced with blindness, Chambers came to Wingate about six years ago.
In addition to family, friends and her child-rearing, Chambers cites the church and her belief in Jesus, as well as learning "The Word," as her fondest memories.
A Charter Member of the Baptist Temple Church, Chambers also holds the honor of being its eldest member. Several of her fellow church members, including Florence Cotten, who has known Chambers for 40 years, were on hand for her birthday milestone festivities.
"Ophelia is just such a God-loving person, whose memories are very vivid," said Cotten. "She might not be able to see, but she has a sharp mind and can really talk."
So what does the oldest Chambers family member of all time have to say about the big 106?
"I feel good today," said Chambers. "I thank the Lord for this day and being able to get up and go from one room to another."