When Sarah Ann Gholston was born January 23, 1911, the Titanic had not gone under water yet, Chrysler was still 14 years away from rolling its first car off the assembly line in Highland Park, you could not rip open a bag of Better Made chips just yet, and William Howard Taft was president. The native Detroiter is 107-years-old and will celebrate her 108th birthday next Wednesday.
Research consortium Gerontology Research Group only keeps records of people around the world older than 110, so it is unclear where she ranks as one of the oldest people in the Detroit area. Either way, Gholston has hit a milestone that many only hope to reach.
Gholston was born in “the country” as she calls it, in Pine Bluff, Arkansas; the youngest of William and Hannah Dunn’s 10 children. She had one son, William Eddie Smith Sr., and like thousands of other black families in the south during that time, they hopped on a train headed north to Detroit in 1939 to live with her sister Myria D. Nelson and cousin Bessie Sewell. They settled in Black Bottom, a predominately African-American neighborhood near downtown. Square dancing at the booming clubs in Paradise Valley was a pastime of hers and her cousin. They lived in a small home on Brewster street and she remembered that vividly because of a distinct smell in the area.
“We lived near the incinerator and the smell of it was so atrocious that we had to keep the windows closed,” said Gholston, as she sat in her wooden rocking chair.
Her living situation has changed substantially since then. She currently lives in a home in the Historic Boston-Edison district with her great-granddaughter Mary Crosby-Young and her husband Craig Young.
When Gholston came to Detroit, she got a job at the Dolling Company Slaughterhouse. She said the sight of dead cows and blood was too much and she was glad when Chrysler called her for work.
World War II was in effect when Gholston got a job with Chrysler making airplane parts. She retired from the Chrysler plant on Jefferson in 1972 after 30 years. Her salary allowed her to purchase her home on Boston Boulevard with her sister in 1969 for $25,000. Her sister passed on November 27, 2014 and lived to be 105 herself. Her son also died, September 3, 2001. But with nine grandchildren, 26 great-grandchildren, and 12 great-great-grandchildren, “Bom Bom”, as they affectionately call her, has enough family surrounding her.
“We cater to her daily,” said Gholston’s oldest granddaughter Renee Crosby. “My daughter and her husband stay here around the clock, so she’s never alone. And when they’re at work, either me, my husband or one of the other great-grandkids will come and stay here with her.”
Once Black Bottom began to deteriorate in the 1940s and black families began to spread out to other parts of the city, Gholston moved to 4743 Holcomb street with her sister. They both joined Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church during that time, where Rev. R.W. Wright was pastor at 1448 Sherman street. She served on Usher Board No.1 and was president of Usher Board No.2 for many years. She also mentored the junior ushers under the leadership of the late Rev. Dr. Sterling L. Jones.
“They had good service and I always wanted to go on first Sunday because that was communion day,” said Gholston. “I loved Rev. Jones’ preaching when he used to walk the church pews. When he first came up here from Mississippi, the deacons said we had to get him some new clothes because it was too cold in Detroit for what he was wearing.”
To this day, Gholston attends Mt. Zion every first Sunday, now at 3600 Van Dyke.
So what does a 107-year-old do on the daily? Gholston has a pretty simple, yet unique routine and she likes to stick to it. She eats pancakes and bacon, with a large coffee and four creams and four sugars every day from Nicky D’s Coney Island on Dexter and Davison. She calls it “eating high on the hog” because of the bacon. She also has a fascination for vanilla Ensure.
She knows how to order items online and once owned a cellphone to call her family to pick her up from church. Her first car was a Chrysler and she did not stop driving until she was 96. Every night she watches Jimmy Fallon and Joel Osteen on Sunday mornings when she cannot make it to church. She was once married, to Jessie “Hamp” Gholston, but they did not conceive any children.
Even at 107, Gholston is smart as a whip and has a good memory. She can say the alphabet backwards, name the 50 states and their capitols, and recite the bible verses. Since they did not have televisions in the south during the early 1900s, newspapers and the radio were the main sources of news. The Pine Bluff Daily Graphic newspaper stopped printing in 1942, but Gholston remembers it well enough to recite the tagline.
“The Daily and Sunday Graphic reaches all parts of south Arkansas, before breakfast or soon thereafter on the same day they were printed,” Gholston blurted out.
Gholston’s faith is what she attributes for her longevity, wit, and wisdom.
“I just lived right,” Gholston explained. “I didn’t run around smoking or drinking. God wakes me up every morning and starts me on my way. He’s blessing me right now to have a house full of devoted grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And they’d better not have it any other way.”
Her family members said they are blessed beyond measure to still have such an important an influential woman in their lives.
“My mother passed away at the age of 28 from cancer,” said Crosby. “My father had three daughters and before my mother passed, she was worried about who’d take care of her three girls. My grandmother and aunt stepped right in and raised us. In fact, her sister even quit her job at Hutzel Hospital and moved in with us on Montclair until my father remarried. They made sure we had everything we needed.”
Gholston has owned her home in one of Detroit’s most prominent neighborhoods for 50 years now and does not plan on going anywhere. In fact, for her 108th, she plans to look out her windows as she does every day, and wait until the rest of her family comes over with her birthday cake to celebrate.
“Earlier last summer, I took her for a ride through the neighborhood,” said Gholston’s granddaughter Phaza Billingslea. “I started on Boston and took her all the way down to Woodward. She sees the changes, noticing all the white people that are moving back into the neighborhood. She sits in her favorite chair, with the windows open and talks about the people going to the store. She said she hopes they hit the lottery.”