Lucile Bryan Stevens still lives in the house where she was born and where her mother was born.
Plenty of people can make that claim. Few of them were born before the start of World War I, shortly after Garner was incorporated as a town.
Stevens, a retired teacher, celebrated her 100th birthday Sunday at the Rand Bryan House with family and friends collected over 10 decades of life. Her daughter Beth Stevens Davis said about 200 attended.
Asked the secret to her longevity, her response resembled that of other centenarians.
“I just keep moving. Keeping moving is one of the best things you can do,” Stevens said. “And I pray a lot.”
Stevens taught school for more than three decades in Nahunta, Smithfield and Garner. A part of the well-known Bryan family that helped start the Rand Bryan House, she was and remains enmeshed in the community of Garner, and earned the James S. Stevens award for Service to Garner in 2011.
Her house remains a place for family to gather, from her daughter to nieces and nephews, the children of her four sisters.
These days she continues to play bridge and read (she’s partial to light mysteries) where she can, though her eyesight has been slowly degenerating. She’s been in the same book club for 60 years.
“My mother has always had a lot of interest in the community and been very active,” Davis said.
Lucile Bryan was born in a house built in the 1840s. When she was a child the area was farmland; now the white home and its porch, after various renovations and editions, retains a secluded feel but sits in the heart of old Garner.
She graduated from Duke University with a degree in education in 1934, in the midst of the Depression. She managed to get a job in Wayne County, and lived in a teacherage (a boarding house for teachers). Only two in the house had a car and she had to hitch rides to work.
“I was very lucky to have that opportunity to teach,” Stevens said.
She met her husband, Ralph Sanders Stevens Jr., at her next stop, in Smithfield. Shortly after he met her and a few other teachers, a friend asked him, “Have you met these teachers?”
“He said, ‘Yes, but they’re so pretty I’d like to meet them again,’” Stevens said. “He was very flattering.”
The two married in November 1938 after a one-year courtship. (Davis said they drove through a snowstorm from their honeymoon to make it to a Duke-Pitt football game.)
During World War II, though, Ralph Stevens died at age 30, three months after their daughter was born, during the battle of Monte Cassino in Italy. He never met his only child, though Davis said she’s pretty sure he had learned about her birth.
“His death was the biggest change I could possibly experience,” Stevens said. “For a while I wouldn’t go out with anybody. I was too brokenhearted to even think about it.”
She never came close to marrying again. Eventually she moved back to Garner, where she cared for her elderly parents at her childhood home. She continued teaching there.
Fabric of Garner
Stevens was once speaking to Garner doctor Greg Pleasants.
“He said ‘You taught my daddy,’” she said, referring to Joe Pleasants. “‘He said you were strict.’”
Other students she taught when they were in eighth grade include recently retired doctor Johnny Bagwell and journalist Tim Stevens, who covers high school sports for The News & Observer.
Her family also was related to another longtime Garner family, the Buffaloes. Her father and Dr. Sam Buffaloe were cousins.
The family was well-known enough that when she and all of her sisters came home for an anniversary party in 1957, The News & Observer wrote a story about it, complete with a photo of the quintet and their parents.
The father of Martha Bryan Liles, this year’s Stevens service award winner, is Stevens’ first cousin.
Now, her family and various friends drop by to say hello to the family’s matriarch.
Family came to town from out of state to celebrate her milestone, and she said she’s received calls from quite a few former students as her birthday Oct. 22 approached.
Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Johns stopped by on his walk while Stevens was conducting an interview with the newspaper shortly after other family had arrived.
“I still enjoy spending time with my family and friends,” Stevens said. “I didn’t expect (to reach 100) but I’m happy to be there.”