(pictured above: Ina Cook (center) with her daughters Kathleen Satterfield (left) and Sue Vogler.)
When it comes to U.S. history, Winston-Salem resident Ina Cook has practically seen it all. Cook, a native of Stokes County, celebrated her 109th birthday on Nov. 18. The second of six children, Cook was born in 1904, one year after the Wright Brothers made their historic first flight in Kitty Hawk and when the country had only 45 states. Women weren’t allowed to vote, the stock market had yet to crash and African Americans were decades away from achieving civil rights. The first silent film had premiered just the year before, and Henry Ford’s Model T automobiles wouldn’t go into production for another four years.
Life was different in those days, recalls Cook, the matriarch of five generations of Cooks. She grew up on a farm, where her daily chores included feeding the hogs, hoeing tobacco and corn in the growing season, and churning butter for the family. They worked hard, Cook said, but she and her siblings still found plenty of time to have fun.
“We’d ride horses and go to frolics until about 11 or 12 o’clock,” she said, referencing the spirited dance parties she regularly attended as a young woman. Cook and her siblings would sneak away to the gatherings, where the music of banjos and fiddles filled the night.
“Paul wouldn’t know,” she said, referencing her father with a sly grin. “He didn’t want his horses out in the cold.”
On her first day of school, Cook walked to the three room schoolhouse in town, carrying her lunch in a bucket. She remembers crying in embarrassment because she hadn’t yet learned her alphabet. The family’s primary mode of transportation was a horse and buggy.
“When we went to a big to-do, we went in the wagon,” she recalled.
The family cooked their meals over the fireplace.
“Grandma always baked a pancake in the skillet and flavored it with brandy. All of us youngins would have a piece,” said Cook, remembering one of her favorite treats. “It was nice.”
In the warmer months, they would place a large washing tub in the yard to heat in the sun, an opportunity for mischief that Cook says her brothers could scarcely resist.
“The meanies, they’d pour it out and put in cold,” she said.
Cook spent much of her childhood living alongside her future husband, the late Larn Cook, who was her childhood neighbor. The two wed on Easter Monday in 1922 and enjoyed 62 years of marriage before his death in 1984.
“I was crazy, I reckon,” she said when asked what made her want to marry the dapper Mr. Cook. “We had four good looking youngins.”
When The Great Depression struck in 1929, the Cooks, like families across the nation, were forced to get creative in trying to make ends meet.
“It was very hard,” recalled daughter Sue Vogler, 86. “It was tough because the banks closed, and what little money they had, it was gone, so they rented, they share cropped.”
Even in the times of great adversity, Cook remained steadfast, employing her near-legendary work ethic to bridge the gaps and provide for her family.
“She sold butter, she sold eggs, she sold milk. They grew their grain and they had it ground. She canned all of her hog meat, and that carried her through,” said Vogler, a retired US Airways reservationist. “I never remember a time that we were hungry, nor wasn’t we clean. She sewed us clothes out of food sacks – all of that stuff. It was phenomenal. What a life!”
Cook often credits her industrious nature – and the fact that she is a praying woman – as primary contributors to her longevity.
“She usually says her hard work kept her going, and I imagine that’s true,” Vogler said. “She didn’t have time to think about how bad the situation was.”
Cook drove a car until age 97 and lived on her own on the farm where she had reared her children – now grandparents and great grandparents themselves – until she made the decision to join her late son at a local retirement community. In September, she attended the homecoming of Old Westfield Friends Church, where she enjoys the distinction of being the oldest living member. Cook joined the congregation 88 years ago.
In 2004, Cook relocated to Danby House assisted living facility, where she is well known for her sweet tooth, her love of Bingo and coffee (she drinks three to four cups a day) and her uncommonly sharp intellect. Danby House med tech Jennifer Aguilar describes her as “a very determined little lady” who often dispenses parenting advice to staffers and knows each employee by name.
“She can remember all of my pregnancies since I was here,” related the 33 year-old. “She knows that me and her each have two boys and two girls and she tries to compare how she raised her kids to how I’m raising mine. She’s very with it; she knows all my children’s names … It’s just been wonderful working with her all these years, cutting up, laughing and joking.”
The only centenarian in the home, Cook is thought to be the oldest of the 5000-plus residents in Meridian Senior Living’s nationwide network. Longevity is in her blood; Cook’s own father lived to be 102. Her 88-year-old daughter Kathleen Satterfield said having her mother still in the land of the living is virtually unheard of among her peer group.
“When I tell people that, they don’t believe me,” she said.
Aguilar, who has served the Danby House for more than eight years, said Cook’s sense of independence and cognitive clarity distinguish her even more than her advanced years.
“Most of our residents are 30 years younger than her and they need way more help than she does,” she declared. “It’s incredible to see somebody that old be able to do so much.”