It's not every day that someone celebrates their 100th birthday, but that's what Aurelia Key Bennett Ray of Payson will be doing Jan. 30.
Aurelia was born in 1901 in Paris Paris, Texas, that is, where her father worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad and she cultivated her soft, Texas drawl. Her family later moved to Dennison, Texas, where Aurelia attended elementary school. At the age of 17, she married John B. Bennett, whom she had met in Silver Springs, Texas.
The couple had eight children Kay Davis of Payson; Dewey Bennett, who died in the Navy aboard the U.S.S. New Orleans during a battle for the Soloman Islands; Bettie Tarrant; Maudie Hollis, Gene Bennett, Key Bennett and Edie Bledsoe of Phoenix; and Mina McCoy of Oregon.
Aurelia's husband worked on the Gulf Oil pipeline, and as the pipeline was extended, the Bennetts moved along with it. Life wasn't easy for them, living in the small cottages the company provided. The Bennetts' children quickly became accustomed to doubling up in bed, and once the family even had to live in a tent.
Aurelia's daughter Kay said that as a child she often wished for a room of her own. Instead, she and her sisters once had to share their bed with a couple of stranded motorists.
The family's journey along the pipeline started in Saltillo, Texas and ended in Kermit, Texas, near Amarillo. John died in 1962 and in 1971, Aurelia moved to Phoenix to be near her daughter Kay and Kay's husband, Emmett Davis. Aurelia thought the dry desert air might help her arthritis.
In 1975, Aurelia moved to Payson, when Kay and Emmett retired here. She met and married Willis J. Ray, a Baptist minister, who has since passed away.
Aurelia now lives at Payson Care Center, and the attendants say she is the fastest mover there with her walker-on-wheels. She reads, watches television and crochets.
The hardest part of living such a long life, Aurelia said, is that she's outlived most of her friends, but at noon Jan. 27 at Mario's Restaurant she'll be surrounded by family members from around the country who'll help her celebrate her 100th birthday a few days early.