The oldest woman in Georgia wakes up each morning and asks for a cup of coffee with sugar and cream. She likes eggs for breakfast and if she wants something sweet, watermelon and grapes are preferred.
Those sound like the habits of someone at any age, but what sets Ila Jones apart is that she has lived to see 19 U.S. presidents. She was 24 years old when a sculptor began carving famous faces into Mount Rushmore. And when she was 4 months old, a young man named Orville Wright flew an aircraft in the first documented, powered flight.
Ila Jones is 112 years old.
The eldest of three girls, Ila was born in a two-room log cabin in Lumpkin County. And rode a mule to a one-room school at Cane Creek where her aunt taught.
Years later, she would return to the classroom as a teacher, first at the Cave Spring Consolidated School in 1930, then later at the Georgia School for the Deaf and Cedartown High School where she taught algebra and geometry.
“She always loved math,” said her son Paul Sewell. “She just had a knack for it and could always figure out a math problem when no one else could.”
These days, Ila can be found at Oxton Place of Rome, a senior living community. “Ila came to us in February 1998,” said executive director Sherry Lyle. “We just love her. She is so sweet and loving. She always wants to kiss your cheek or your hand.”
Her room at Oxton Place is filled with the keepsakes of a life well lived. There are countless photos of family members and friends and, yes, husbands. Ila’s been married twice.
There are banners from her grandchildren and stuffed animals and photos from a time most people can only read about in history books.
“She liked to sew and she liked gardening when she was younger,” Sewell said. “She also liked writing poetry and has a book of her poems that her grandchildren created for her.”
Though she isn’t talkative all the time, Ila lets her caregivers know when she wants coffee (which is every morning, as soon as she gets out of bed), and she lets them know when she wants to sit outside in the sunshine.
And every now and again, she’ll recite a poem her granddaddy wrote for her to recite at church when she was just 12 years old. It’s hard to understand all the words, but it’s clear she knows the poem by heart. It’s called “When God Created Man” and while some of the words are garbled, there are times when her voice rings out clear and strong as she says “and all is risen … and sun and moon and stars.”
“Miss Ila is such a blessing to be around,” said one of her caregivers, Mahogany Brown. “She is always positive and always very affectionate. The first time she recited her poem for me I cried. She is absolutely very aware of everything going on around her and is a joy to all of us. Her age is just one of the things that make her so special.”
The staff at Oxton Place has been celebrating Ila’s birthday all week, though today is the official date. Lyle has even gotten an email from NBC’s Today Show for a possible interview about Ila.
But the most special celebration will be with her loved ones. Her sons, Paul and Ike and their families, will be at Oxton Place to honor and celebrate her.
She’ll have some of her favorite things — cherry tomatoes, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and, of course, watermelon and grapes.
Ila is the oldest living person in Georgia and, according to the Gerontology Research Group, she is the 40th oldest person in the world. But that wasn’t as important to her as how her hair looked when she learned someone from the newspaper was going to take her photo.
“Her life has been about helping as many people as she could,” Sewell said of his mother. “She has gone out of her way to help hundreds of people in her personal life and even more as a teacher for so many years.”