An Easy 102 Years


Looking back on all 102 years of her life, Derenna Ellen Fortner, says she lived an easy life.

Easy maybe, because she never held a paying job, never broke a bone, had a loving marriage and unwavering faith.


Dorennea Ellen Fortner

But then Fortner barely had time for a job since she has four daughters, Yvonee House, Lois Ward, Phyllis Burris and Mary England. She also has 19 grandchildren, 37 great-grandchildren and 12 great-great-grandchildren. And managing that many birthdays and anniversaries is no easy task, Fortner said.

"You don't try to keep track of them," Fortner said.

Fortner also kept busy by volunteering at numerous committees and organizations throughout her life.

She was church treasurer for 25 years, song director, camp counselor, Sunday school teacher, PTA president and Girl Scout leader, to name a few.

"Finally her husband said if you're not going to get any money for these, then she should get a job for money," said Fortner's daughter Mary England, 73.

So, Fortner went to work at the family owned cleaning company.

"She was never put on a salary though," England said.

Fortner also worked free of charge on the farm she grew up on in Jasper County, Ill.

She churned butter, ground coffee, but only once milked a cow.

"Growing up as a kid, I had a happy time," she said.

Fortner married her husband, Walter Fortner, on Dec. 4, 1926, a year after graduating from Charleston State Teacher College in Illinois.

Fortner said she met Walter after being introduced at the high school where she trained.

"I went to the post office every day, because you had to pick your mail up in those days, and he would watch me reading the mail, but I didn't pay any attention to him," she said.

They met one afternoon and talked on a porch swing for several hours, he asked for a date, and they were together for more than 50 years. Walter passed in 1980.

Fortner credits her happy marriage to Walter being the son of a preacher.

"I have happy memories of their marriage and childhood," daughter Mary said.

"I never knew of them arguing. When Mom was mad, she would clam up and not talk to him."

Today, Fortner remains independent, helping with chores around the house and washing the dishes.

"She wants to be useful," Mary said. "She still bosses me."

On a typical day, Fortner said she watches the news and sermons then takes a nap in her rocking chair.

She quit crocheting and tatting after her neck hurt from looking down and crocheting more than 70 Afghans.

Having outlived her parents, five brothers and two sisters, Fortner said she is ready to go any day.

"Sometimes I am anxious to go," she said.

When she has trouble sleeping, Fortner said she says a scripture for each letter of the alphabet.

One of her favorite verses she remembers from Sunday school is, "Enter ye in the straight gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and may there be which go in thereat."

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