BATESVILLE, Ark. — All Mildred Heater wanted for her 100th birthday was a ride in a convertible sports car — something she’s never done.
Recently, she got her wish.
Approximately 50 friends and family members gathered recently to celebrate Heater’s 100th birthday and to see the look on her face when she was wheeled outside the front doors of Batesville Healthcare Center.
Heater’s jaw dropped as she first saw the brand new, cherry red Chevrolet Camaro SS waiting under the awning to take her out for a ride on the town. Heater’s face lit up as she wheeled closer to the sports car, her frail hand stretched out and she gently touched the paint.
“Oh my,” Heater said as she lifted herself out of her chair and into the crisp leather seats of the convertible. “This is just beautiful.”
As Heater got buckled in, Rick Dawson with Scott Wood Chevrolet presented Heater with a brand new scarf and pair of sunglasses to use for her birthday cruise.
From the time she sat down in the new car until she and Dawson wheeled back into the parking lot of Batesville Healthcare Center 30 minutes later, the smile on Heater’s face never faded.
“This was an amazing birthday present,” Heater said as she visited with friends and family after her joyride. “Watch out now, don’t scratch the paint on my new car,” she said, laughing.
Heater was born on Oct. 11, 1913, in an old farmhouse adjacent to the Strawberry River near Poughkeepsie — predating World War I, the opening of the Panama Canal and even Charlie Chaplin movies, she said.
It was a different era, and as such, Heater has experienced many “firsts” over the past century.
“I remember the first television set and the first automobile in the area,” Heater recalled. “We only had a wagon and horse and two teams of mules. My, how times have changed.”
As Heater looks back, she jokingly added, “I think George Washington would’ve been the president back then.”
“Actually,” she corrected, showing her still-sharp memory, “I think it was (Woodrow) Wilson.”
Heater recalled that her Grandpa Jarrett was one of the first ones in the area to own a television set, and she remembers people crowding into his little grocery store in town to have a look at the strange contraption.
“Grandpa had to put it in his store because my grandmother wouldn’t let him keep it in the house,” Heater smiled. “She thought it was just too much of a spectacle.”
Heater attended school in Poughkeepsie (where her uncle was superintendent) until ninth grade due to the high cost of books and in order to help raise five of her younger siblings.
“Books were just too much; you had to buy everything back then,” Heater explained.
Heater said her first job was in Hardy shortly after she quit school, working at a boarding house.
“Some weeks I got a dollar a week; other times I only made enough to cover my room and board,” she said.
After that Heater said she worked as a waitress in a caf￩ in Hoxie before she left for South Haven, Mich. to work in a factory for the World War II effort. After the war was over, Heater moved to Walnut Ridge and worked at a local hotel there.
In 1945, Mildred married Robert Heater and they moved to Trumann.
“Robert was injured while in the Army. We got married while he was still on crutches, and he was discharged shortly afterward.”
Robert and Mildred were married 50 years before he died in 1995. Heater says although it was tough to move on once her husband passed, she is at peace.
“We were saved in our later years. God was very good to us and blessed us in many ways,” Heater said. “God’s been good to me since he (Robert) passed.
“Being saved means getting on your knees, shedding tears, asking forgiveness for your sins and knowing that you’re not going back to where you’ve been. His mercy is unbelievable,” Heater said.
Heater said her secret to living to be 100 years old is staying busy, working hard and keeping a positive attitude. But she claims that her relationship with God is the biggest reason she is still here.
“I pray and I’ve always tried to my best to help others,” Heater said. “That would be my advice to anyone.”