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Hot Springs woman turning 100 on Feb. 19, lives active life

By Sam Pierce

This article was published February 4, 2018 at 12:00 a.m.

Mildred Smith of Hot Springs will turn 100 years old on Feb. 19. Smith said the key to her longevity is staying active, both spiritually and physically.

Keep moving, and they can’t bury you.

That’s the attitude of Mildred Smith, who will turn 100 years young on Feb. 19.

“She is just so active,” her daughter Marge Grisham said. “I don’t know how she has done it all these years. She is just so active. She is 30 years older than I am, and I don’t even like to say I’m tired, because she never complains.”

The youngest of seven, Smith said she is just a super positive and happy person.

“I eat right, and I exercise,” said Smith, who lives in an apartment at the Levi Towers in Hot Springs. “I go to the church twice a week and exercise.”

She said she also loves to play a card game called hand and foot and plays bingo at the apartment complex.

“I love living at Levi Towers because we have things to do on a daily basis,” she said. “We play bingo on Tuesday nights, and we try to play some kind of game every day.

“I love playing hand and foot once a month.”

Smith’s father moved with his family to Hot Springs in 1875, when her dad was barely 2 years old.

“We ended up 10 to 12 miles from town, what is now Mountain Pine,” she said. “That’s where I grew up. I went to a one-room school till about the third grade.”

She said she attended the Mountain Pine School District until 1935, when the school burned.

“I graduated from Hot Springs High School in 1937 and married that December,” Smith said.

She and her husband, Van Smith, were married for 61 years, before he died in 1999. Together, they have three children: Darrell Smith, 79; Winston Smith, 75; and Grisham, 69. Smith has five grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.

“I think she is a very generous person,” Grisham said. “She is very involved and always active.

“She was a hands-on mother and always there for anything we had going on. She sacrificed a lot, too. She was adamant that all three of us got a college education.”

Grisham, who attended Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, said if she could describe her mother in one word, it would be “amazing.”

“She is just a good person,” Grisham said. “She really tries to live by the golden rule and treat people like you want to be treated.

“She lived by that. That is what I would take away from her.”

Darrell Smith has been battling cancer for the past 10 years and was recently admitted to hospice care, but he called his mother Monday to say he wants to be at every function for her birthday.

“It is a hard thing for her to deal with,” Grisham said, “trying to get ready for the celebrations knowing that her oldest is so sick.”

“I have been so worried about him,” Mildred Smith said. “I can’t think about my celebrations.”

Smith said she was the first female mutuel teller for Oaklawn Racing & Gaming in Hot Springs, applying for the job after her husband had started working there in 1969. She was hired a year later.

“I worked there for 33 years,” Smith said. “When I started working, I sold $2 show bets, and you didn’t have to say a word, except ‘Give me the six.’

“Now think about all they do. We had sellers and cashiers and handled the money by hand. Now everything is computerized.”

Smith still goes to the race track on a regular basis. Her family is hosting one of her five birthday celebrations for her at the track on her birthday.

“She is one of our biggest fans,” said Kim Barron, director of marketing for Oaklawn Racing & Gaming. “She very rarely misses a day.”

Barron said she doesn’t know the history regarding it’s first female workers, but said would take Smith’s word for it.

“She has a pretty good memory for 100,” Barron said. “She has so much energy; it is amazing.”

Smith has gone to the winner’s circle a few times, presenting the trophy.

“She has honored the track by doing that,” Barron said. “She is a terrific fan. She has an amazing amount of energy and stamina for a person her age.”

Smith said she used to go to the races just about every day.

“I mostly go to visit and socialize and meet the people that bet with me,” she said. “I just love everybody and have a good time wherever I go.”

Smith and her husband moved to Hot Springs in 1942, and Van started working for the newly opened Reynolds aluminum plant. The family eventually moved to California to work for a defense plant.

“Van worked in the shipyard, and I worked as a welder because he always wanted me to work, too,” Smith said. “We were probably there for three years; then we had to come back here.

“We were on the go all the time. I don’t know how I managed.”

She said they came back to Hot Springs in 1945 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt died.

“My father worshipped him,” Smith said. “[My husband and I] came home early, more or less, because my dad was home alone, and he was just beside himself when [Roosevelt] died.”

When Smith and her husband moved back to Hot Springs, she worked as a masseuse and Van as a masseur at Maurice Bathhouse. He eventually became the manager of the Maurice in 1956.

“A couple years after he became manager, the bookkeeper retired, and he brought me downstairs to work in the office with him,” she said. “I know I was downstairs when [President] Kennedy was killed.”

Smith said Kennedy’s death was one of the biggest shocks she experienced in her lifetime.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “He was an idol of mine. You had to be proud of him.”

Smith attends First Methodist Church in Hot Springs, where she has been a member since 1948. She is president of the Extra Years of Zest, or XYZ, a church group. She likes to joke that she is not sure which came first, being a Democrat or a Methodist.

“We are so strong in our faith,” Smith said. “I love that church.”

She said the church is planning on hosting a groundbreaking ceremony this month for the lot the church purchased at the corner of Grand and Central avenues.

“It will be an asset to the town because we plan on turning the lot into a garden,” she said. “The groundbreaking for the garden is more important than my birthday.”

Smith loves to garden. She recently helped beautify the front of the Levi.

“All my life, I grew up in a garden,” she said. “After my husband passed, my son moved in with me part time, and he did all the heavy work.

“But I still used the push plow and all that.”

She said one weekend, she gave away all her vegetables to an estimated 15 families.

“She really is sincere,” Grisham said. “She is one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet.”

Grisham said that when her mother was 86 years old, she baby-sat Grisham’s newborn grandson. And her mother’s age never even crossed Grisham’s mind.

“We didn’t think about her age,” she said. “She is so sharp and doing something all the time. I think that’s the key to it.”

Staff writer Sam Pierce can be reached at (501) 244-4314 or spierce@arkansasonline.com.

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