Most can count on one hand the number of times Ms. Henrietta has missed church.
In over 70 years.
And all who can were in McKinney on Thursday to celebrate the faithful woman’s 100th birthday. Other than it celebrated the century mark, it wasn’t a typical party.
Henrietta Gaither, born June 16, 1916, had no family at McKinney Healthcare and Rehab Center, where she now stays. Some have moved away; many, she’s outlived.
“The Lord has just blessed me,” she said. “I’ve been here a long time.”
Though hard of hearing, Gaither still beams a smile everywhere she looks.
Her wheelchair can’t stop her from pumping her arms and twisting her head in a mini jig.
Mostly, though, she just laughs.
Maybe she’s thinking of a time in the cotton fields of Caldwell County, where she grew up. Or of watering every single plant in and around the McKinney Senior Center.
After all, she’s been in McKinney half her life.
It’s where she met Climmie Rogers, 85, her church-going sidekick. Every Sunday, the two sit by each other in the pews at First Church Pinnacle of Praise.
“If somebody is sitting beside me, she gives them a look,” Rogers explained, trailing in her mind to a moment long ago. “We’ve had some good times together.”
And there’s church mother Lillie Norris, a 1954 graduate of Doty High School, McKinney’s all-black school. She’s lived all 80-plus years of her life in McKinney – and Gaither still manages to enrich every part of it, she said.
“She’s very positive,” Norris noted. “Easy to get along with.”
The Senior Center is where Mary Headrick first got along with Gaither about 25 years ago. Headrick, now food services director for Meals on Wheels of Collin County, called Thursday’s party “right up her alley.”
“She loves attention,” Headrick added.
So that’s what she got for an afternoon, probably the liveliest in some time. McKinney Mayor Brian Loughmiller stopped by and read a proclamation, calling the celebration “one of the highlights of my eight years in office.”
Henrietta’s highlights over the past century? Hymns, prayers and candy yams.
She was First Lady to her late husband, Brother Gaither, as she called him when he was pastor of First Church many years ago. District missionary had her praying over and taking photos of fellow women of faith around the region.
Her influence now is in her presence. A century’s worth, steady presence.
“Nothing has deterred her,” First Church Pastor Dwaine Guyton said. “It’s a miracle and a blessing.”