Family, Friends Gather For Woman's 100th Birthday

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Derenna Fortner means the world to her family, and her relatives responded Saturday afternoon by celebrating her 100th birthday, albeit a month sooner than the actual date. Fortner's birthday is July 9.

More than 60 friends and relatives turned out at Mountain Bible EFC to celebrate her life.

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Derenna Fortner sits with her four daughters during Saturday's event that celebrated her 100th birthday. It was the first time they had been in one place in 26 years.

Her four daughters, Yvonne House, Lois Ward, Mary England and Phyllis Burris, worked for almost a year on the event.

Burns said her mother did not want a funeral, so she and her sisters decided to honor her with the 100th birthday instead.

England said it was important to plan ahead so friends and relatives could plan vacations around the celebration.

Fortner, who knew about the event, was still humbled by the turnout.

"What can I say about it?" she said as numerous friends and relatives stopped by to wish her "happy birthday."

She said what made the celebration more special was it was the first time she and her four daughters had been in one place in 26 years. They last met in 1980 for the funeral of her husband.

"It's overwhelming," she said. "It brings tears to my eyes -- happy tears. Seeing relatives and friends is great."

In the background, a video of her life, made by her daughter, House, played on a screen, and Fortner said it was well done.

Flanked by her four daughters, Fortner reminisced about the early years of her life.

The first time she rode in a car was when she was attending elementary school and a neighbor had purchased a Model T Ford.

Indoor plumbing and electricity were things she and her family did not have until her teenage years after the family moved from the country to the city in Illinois. She also did not have any appliances until after marrying her husband in 1926.

The appliances allowed her more free time for other activities, including serving as church treasurer and PTA president.

Fortner was a schoolteacher for one year after graduating from Charleston State Teacher College in Illinois. She worked for a brother to save money, and her salary was a pregnant sow, which she used to pay for college.

"That pig put her through school," said granddaughter Judy Ward, who has compiled a history on her grandmother. "I keep all of her stories."

Fortner also worked at Fortner's Quality Cleaning that she and her husband owned.

Lois Ward remembered her mom as a woman who tried to take care of everyone, and pointed to the 1918 flu that killed thousands as an example.

Ward said her mother and grandmother in that year tended to the people who came down with the illness. Hundreds of people in Illinois called her mom.

"She was a mover," Ward said. "When she got in there, things happened."

Burns said her mother was very religious and her relatives and friends believe her prayers matter.

Lynn House-Bird, a granddaughter by marriage, said Fortner is still having an impact on lives through the actions of her past. She said when her husband, Greg, was 11-years-old, Fortner shared the Gospel with him while at a summer camp. Years later, she said, her husband shared the Gospel with her and when their children reached the age of five, they prayed the same prayer.

"She had a rippling effect of a godly life, and now it continues," House-Bird said.

"People call grandma when the chips are down," Burns said. "She is a shining beacon."

Ward said the large turnout was not a surprise to those who knew her mother. "She taught them, and they do not forget it," she said. "She was a good example."

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