HENDERSON — Although circumstances are different for this year, Henderson native Myrtle Hughes Waite will still get to enjoy a milestone in a socially distant fashion on Feb. 26 when she celebrates her 100th birthday.
Waite’s eldest daughter, Shelby Fredericks, has observed her mother make the most out of her previous 99 years of life, but primarily remembers her as a strong but caring individual who was always willing to do what was necessary to take care of her family.
“She’s been a great mother,” Fredericks said. “She was a stay-at-home mother for as long as she could be while my daddy worked on the railroad, and she supplemented the income by working in the local cotton mill for three years on the third shift while still being an active mother and getting us ready for school.”
Waite married her first husband, Henry Perry Hughes, in 1936 when she was only 15 years old. She would give birth to Fredericks one year later before having three more children during the early 1940s.
When Hughes passed away in 1959, Waite started attending nursing school in Raleigh at Mary Elizabeth Hospital. Once she became a licensed practical nurse, Waite accepted a position at Maria Parham Health in the early 1960s and stayed there until her retirement in the 1980s.
Outside of the hospital, Waite was an active member of City Road United Methodist Church located on N. Garnett Street in Henderson and very rarely missed a service until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic forced her and the rest of the congregation to stay home.
It was during church that Waite regularly showcased her talents as a pianist. She served as a substitute for the primary pianist at City Road United Methodist Church when she was younger, but would also visit nursing homes with her sister and play the piano for their Sunday school service.
On weekends, Waite would travel with a band to the Vance County Senior Center and play music for the local residents to dance to, with Fredericks adding that performing in front of others in any capacity was something that Waite always enjoyed doing.
“She played the piano all her life,” Fredericks said. “She never studied music, but she can sit down and play 100 different songs and never play the same one twice. She knows music from the 20s, ’30s and on up, and everyone always loved to hear her play the piano.”
Waite ended up passing down her knowledge on playing the piano to Fredericks. Although she credits Waite for feeling comfortable as a player herself, Fredericks said that her mother will always be the most talented pianist in the family.
“I do play a little by ear, but I will never measure up to Momma,” Fredericks said. “I don’t have any inclination to do that, but I do enjoy playing and I got that gift from her. I just wish that I could play like her.”
Throughout the past several decades, Waite’s family has continued to expand and now includes nine grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and 13 great-great grandchildren descended from the four children Waite had with Hughes.
Waite has mainly lived by herself during her adult life following the passing of her second husband, Ralph Waite, in the 1980s, but Fredericks’ brother Scott recently had her moved from Henderson to New Hanover House Assisted Living in Wilmington so that she could be closer to more family members in that region while the pandemic carries on.
Even though she is approaching her 100th birthday, Fredericks said that Waite is still very active and social with everyone at New Hanover House, and can often be found practicing on a piano provided by the staff whenever she has time.
Due to concerns about spreading COVID-19, Fredericks will not be able to attend her mother’s 100th birthday in person, but she knows that her siblings and the New Hanover House staff will do everything possible to give her a memorable celebration as she turns a century old.
“My sister is getting a big cake and taking it over to New Hanover House,” Fredericks said, “They would let Momma come out and go with us, but we felt like that was not the right thing to do, so they’re going to have her celebrate at the New Hanover House. My sister and brother will be there, but I’ll be there in spirit.”
While Fredericks is disappointed that she cannot see her mother on a milestone birthday, she said that she would not be in her current position without Waite’s guidance and care, and expressed her gratitude towards= everything that she has done for the family during the last several decades.