Former Northeastern teacher to celebrate 108th birthday with hundreds of cards, chocolate cake

Geraldine Henry will soon be 108 years old. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Geraldine Henry will soon be 108 years old. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Cedarville University, some of her former high school students, helping mark occasion.

A former Northeastern teacher and Cedarville University graduate who turns 108 today said her secret to living a long life is being kind, eating and the care she’s gotten at the assisted living center where she lives.

Geraldine Henry was born in 1913 to William and Cora Henry and grew up in her family home in London, Ohio, until she moved in 2014 to Sisters on Elm Assisted Living Center in London.

She said, “being kind, helping others, staying active and having faith,” is a part of her secret to living a long life.

“And I enjoy eating. I like to tell people that I have the appetite of a farmhand. I still like to eat. I asked for a chocolate cake for my birthday with lots of chocolate icing,” Henry said through her power of attorney in a release from Cedarville University. “I’ve also received wonderful care at Sisters on Elm. I think part of my long life is a result of the excellent care I’ve received here.”

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Henry graduated from Cedarville University (then Cedarville College) in 1934 with a degree in education. She taught American history at Catawba High School and later Northeastern High School.

“She was an inspiration to many young people in Northeastern Local School District and our community,” said former student Gretta Bayliss Runyan. “Being remembered by her positive attitude and her ability to talk and laugh with us students.”

Henry has been through and seen a lot — including living through two pandemics: the Spanish Flu in 1918 when she was 5 and now the coronavirus.

“I’ve just tried to be kind, stay involved and active, keep positive and happy, and look for ways to serve others,” Henry said.

Henry will be honored by Cedarville University and Ohio leaders for her birthday. Representatives from the college will deliver at least 108 birthday cards and gifts from current faculty, staff and students, according to college officials. She also will be given a framed letter of celebration from Gov. Mike DeWine and a proclamation from state Sen. Bob Hackett, R-London.

Cedarville University students with birthday cards for Geraldine Henry. CONTRIBUTED
Cedarville University students with birthday cards for Geraldine Henry. CONTRIBUTED

Henry is believed to be Cedarville’s oldest alumna and has been a longtime supporter of the university. She even established an endowed scholarship, the William and Cora Norman Henry Memorial Scholarship. In honor of her parents, the scholarship is for students majoring in elementary education.

“Geraldine is our oldest living alumnus, and she holds an honored position at the university,” said Roscoe Smith, Cedarville’s director of gift planning. “She has maintained close ties with Cedarville over the years and has shown a desire to support students today who are pursuing a career she gave her life to. That is worth honoring.”

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Henry said receiving the cards means the world to her.

“My own whole career was around teaching, and it means a lot to receive these cards from the education students,” she said.

Five of her former students, who graduated in 1955, also came together to honor Henry and celebrate her birthday, including Bob Baker, John Haley, Jerry Runyan, Gretta Bayliss Runyan and Jim Anon.

Northeastern graduates look over pictures in an old year book Monday at C.J. Brown Reservoir. The are, from left, Bob Baker, John Haley, Jerry Runyon, Gretta Bayliss Runyon and Jim Anon. BILL LACKEY/STAFF
Northeastern graduates look over pictures in an old year book Monday at C.J. Brown Reservoir. The are, from left, Bob Baker, John Haley, Jerry Runyon, Gretta Bayliss Runyon and Jim Anon. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

“She’s an extraordinary woman … she’s a wonderful teacher,” Baker said. “She loves kids, loves her students, loved school and teaching.”

Baker said one of his biggest memories of Henry is when he was out of school for his junior year, and she took it upon herself to help him continue to get through school to be able to graduate with his class. He said she went to his teachers, got all his studies and sent them to him at home. Once he finished the work, he sent it back to her and she graded them. He said she helped him pass.

When asked how the five would describe Henry in a few words, a big one was “selfless.” They described her as one of the strongest teachers, supportive, pleasant and outgoing, loyal to her students and encouraging, and to be remembered for her service to the school district.

“It’s amazing. How many people around this area have lived to 108? It’s just amazing someone we know could be 108. It’s amazing to have that time to spend with her,” Jerry Runyan said.

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