‘Education is freedom’: Centenarian made sure all of her children went to college

2013-10-06T02:00:00Z 2015-05-15T18:33:43Z ‘Education is freedom’: Centenarian made sure all of her children went to collegeBy KIMBERLEI N. DAVIS T&D Staff Writer The Times and Democrat
October 06, 2013 2:00 am  • 

Growing up as young girl, Alma Ulmer had dreams of becoming a successful English teacher.

Even though she never stood in front of a blackboard or attended college, her dreams did come to fruition.

A hundred years after Alma Baxter Ulmer dreamed her first dream, she is alive to marvel in the wonder of it all.

Seven of her 10 children graduated from four-year colleges and two graduated from two-year colleges. Five went on to obtain master’s degrees and several of her children and grandchildren went on to teach in secondary and higher education.

Friends and family helped Ulmer usher in her 100th birthday in grand style on June 15 at the Kappa Kastle. Through tributes and presentations, well-wishers recounted the life of the centenarian.

In a soft whisper, Ulmer said that while there is no fountain of youth, her key to longevity is: “I never drank. I only had one man in my life, and he’s been dead 20 years and I haven’t seen any more (men) since.”

As a young child at the historic Dunton Memorial School, Alma was hardworking, obedient and God fearing.

The only child of Calhoun and Carrie Felder Baxter, Ulmer was only 3 when she lost her mother .

She soon became the big sister to three stepbrothers.

“I had to help raise my stepbrothers after my father remarried,” noted Ulmer. “I couldn’t continue school, but I didn’t complain. I just did as I was told.”

Ulmer’s grandmother, Sophronia Bowman, owned the first dry goods store in Bowman in the early 1800s, and it is believed by the family that the little town of Bowman is named after her.

Her love of the Lord and His work can not only be seen through Ulmer’s work at Mt. Pisgah Baptist Church, but also her work as a homemaker, midwife and a seamstress in the community.

In 1932 at the age of 19, she met and married her “first and only lover,” James.

Ulmer fondly described her late husband as a “gentle man and hard worker.” Their union birthed 10 children: Carl, who preceded her in death; Lessie, Willie, Jean, Loretta, Albert, George, James Jr., Thelma and Patro.

She has 32 grandchildren, 60 great-grandchildren, five great-great grandchildren, and she reared more than 20 foster children.

During the Great Depression, Ulmer made clothing for family members and others in the community. She can still be found using her skills with needle and thread, helping to patch up the clothes of fellow day residents in the Methodist Oaks’ Pace program.

“She’s always looking out for other residents,” said Derrick Durant, recreational therapy director at the Oaks.

“Whether it’s alerting staff to potential concerns or helping out on her own, “she is truly a benefit to not only patients with memory lapses, but she also helps with her time and many talents,” Durant said.

When Ulmer is not winning games of bingo at the Oaks, she is visiting the children at Kiddie Kollege, a day-care owned and operated by her daughter, Loretta Whetstone.

“For many years after mom retired from Sheridan Elementary School as a cafeteria worker, she began to come and prepare lunches for the children, and she makes books for the children,” Whetstone said.

Whetstone remembers her mother saying, “What you do will follow you so do the best you can in all the ways you can.”

Education was as important in the Ulmer family as serving God.

“Mother didn’t go to college but she did everything she could to make sure that “every one of her children went to college,” said son George Sr.

Ulmer taught her children: “If you want freedom, education is freedom,” said granddaughter Dr. Trina Gordon, principal at Elloree Elementary School.”

Known for her handmade cinnamon rolls, granddaughter Trese Reed, a Whittaker Elementary pre-kindergarten teacher, recalled her grandmother being “good at making something out of nothing.

“I’ve taken after her in crafting and in so many other ways. But as a wife and mother, she taught me that one parent has to be hard and the other one soft.”

Her advice to raising a family is: “Take the Lord with you, don’t fuss and fight in front of the children or behind their back.”

Ulmer is a member of the Elks Club, Order of the Eastern Star, YMCA and Andrews Chapel Baptist Church, where she served as the children’s choir director, Sunday school teacher, deaconess and “mother of the church.”

She has traveled to Europe, sailed the seas of the Bahamian Islands and visited the coasts of the United States.

Through all her travels and years of living, Ulmer says one thought has guided her: “Keep God first and be mindful and thankful of His blessings.”

* Contact the writer: kdavis@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5552.

Copyright 2015 The Times and Democrat. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(1) Comments

  1. Rosa Bogar
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    Rosa Bogar - October 06, 2013 2:11 pm
    This is a story that touché my heart. I was watching TV and saw the birthdays and heard this birthday for Alma Ulmer age 100 years old. I called my sister and asked her did she know Mrs. Ulmer . she shared that Mrs. Ulmer was the lady that worked with our mother at the schools in the lunchrooms She would bring my mother home from work .She wished she knew where she was and see if she stills remember our mother. Ola Mavins Again that an inspiring life. we all can learn form it. Rosa Bogar.
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