Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

October 24, 2013

97-year-old Ponta resident is ‘blessed’

Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress

NEW SUMMERFIELD —  Despite a recent bout with breast cancer and losing both a child and a grandchild to different illnesses, 97-year-old Ponta resident Elna Perkins is quick to point out that her life has been filled with blessings.

“I've had a good life, I really have,” she said during a recent Texas Extension Education Association rally day luncheon in New Summerfield, where she joined other members of the Ponta TEEA group that was founded in 1933.

Perkins, the oldest TEEA member in Cherokee County, joined the group 70 years ago as a new bride living in Ponta, where she moved to take a job as the local postmistress.

“My best friend and another lady started the group” – then known as Home Demonstration Clubs –  “so I became a member,” she recalled, “I know that a lot of people think that it's a club just for crafts, but it taught me how to do a lot of things.”

Her late husband Terry – a former Pct. 4 Cherokee County Commissioner – was a staunch supporter of the group and their work with the community and 4-H.

“He was the one who really pushed it,” Elna said, recalling how “no matter where we went or what we did – our girls were in 4-H – he was really behind all of that.”

According to Cherokee County Extension Agent, each club takes on different project that benefit the community, but originally, members taught others how to can, preserve food, and make their own mattresses, even become the driving force behind “Victory Gardens,” which were popular during World War I and World War II.

Overall, the clubs “help us with our work” as extension agents, Green said. “They help spread the word (about AgriLife Extension services), and help with program efforts we have in our community by doing a lot of community service and volunteer work, as well as giving out student scholarships and things like being (project) judges or helping with 4-H.”

Their impact on a community is to “help people get involved,” Perkins explained. “Some people don't know about things, and we've talked them into (joining), and they have enjoyed it, they've gotten into it.”

Members of the Ponta group gather for regular meetings as well as visit with each other several times a week, playing card games and socializing.

“I really enjoy being with the girls – I just enjoy being part of it, because I like to learn new things,” Perkins said, as she recalled the names of former members. “I don't know how many started in Ponta (but) there's only eight of us now.”

For the past two years, club members have committed themselves to the Walk Across Texas campaign, which runs from October through mid-November and focuses on incorporating healthy lifestyle changes like exercise into a daily regimen.

They call themselves “the Ponta Grannies,” Perkins – the oldest WAT participant – explained with a laugh. “We all just tried to think of something, several people had put names down, and we decided that all of us were grandmothers, and we'd be the (Ponta) Grannies.

“I really can't walk much, but I got started because I needed to walk. Sometimes I walk four or five times a day, and then sometimes I don't do it because I don't feel like it,” she confessed. “I told the girls, 'I don't walk enough to be in that,' and they said, 'Oh, yes you do. You just walk a little bit.'” Laughing, she added, “so I do what I can.”

As she gets older, Perkins understands the need for incorporating such health habits, because she thinks it very well may be what helped her bounced back from a serious health crisis: This past spring, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

A mammogram confirmed her finding, and a biopsy was ordered – “I knew right then it was cancer,” she said. “That was in May, and I had surgery June 25 with no (follow-up treatments) whatsoever, and they said they got it all.”

Perkins admits that it puzzles her how, after being healthy all her life, she could have developed breast at 97.

“The doctor asked if there was anyone in my family who'd had it, and I said no. Because my grandson that died, he had (been diagnosed with) a rare cancer,” she said.

If staying active is the key to overall better health, then being proactive by staying on top of check-ups can help a person have a tighter reign over their health, she said.

“I hadn't had a mammogram in 30 years,” nor did she do regular self-exams on her breasts, Perkins said, describing how quick action after discovering the peculiar knot on her breast kept the cancer from spreading.

“If someone even thinks there's something wrong, go right then” to their doctor,” she advised.