Ernestine Chappell rose from a sitting position and lifted the 2-pound weights she was holding in each hand high in the air, then repeated that maneuver several times.
It was a typical exercise in an aerobics class at Reeves Community Center, but Ernestine Chappell’s presence as one of its members was anything but typical. Chappell was celebrating her 99th birthday when it met Thursday, and was treated to a surprise party afterward.
Yet it was just another day at the office, so to speak, for the great-great-grandmother who first joined the local recreation center many years ago, and has continued to be fitness-minded.
“Ernestine is very active in the community,” said Fonda Mooney, family services director at Reeves Community Center. In addition in participating twice a week in the Silver Sneakers recreational program at RCC, which is geared toward persons 65 and older, Chappell takes fitness classes two days each week at ProHealth Center, another facility across town.
When not taking the classes, she volunteers at Northern Hospital of Surry County.
The woman born nearly a century ago also still lives independently and drives.
Mooney; Catrina Alexander, city parks and recreation director; and Darren Lewis, assistant director, were among RCC staffers attending the birthday party along with the honoree’s family members, including a daughter, Kaye Puckett.
“I wasn’t expecting it,” Chappell said of the surprise gathering.
In all, she has three children, six grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild. Her husband was Tom Chappell.
The party included a cake, but one with an abbreviated number of candles, which the birthday girl said was OK with her. “I’d hate to see one with 99 on it — it would take the whole thing.”
Chappell, who was born and raised in Mount Airy, told party-goers that the aerobics workout room they were in symbolizes one of her keys to a long life. “Try to stay active — that’s what I do,” she said.
Diet also is crucial, she said, which has meant eating lots of honey, along with fresh fruits and vegetables straight out of the garden. Chappell consumes little meat.
Puckett recalled that when she and her siblings were young, their mother also never let them have soft drinks. They mostly drank water, Kool-Aid and tea.
In addition to a strong body, Ernestine Chappell has maintained a sharp mind, judging by her capacity to recall bits and pieces of information from her many years of existence.
“I saw the first talking movie in Mount Airy,” she said of one choice tidbit from the past. This was in the late 1920s at the Earle Theatre location downtown, with the movie starring Al Jolson, although Chappell said it was not “The Jazz Singer,” the first-ever talkie.
Those attending Thursday’s party indicated that Ernestine Chappell is serving as a fine example for other seniors.
“She’s amazing,” Alexander said.
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.