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At 100, she’s seen a century of changes

Lee O’ Shell Vanison has made a lifetime of memories spanning a century, and she is very thankful she has been able to watch the world develop and change over the years.


She will make another memory today when she celebrates her 100th birthday.

Family and friends will join in her centennial celebration at a party in her honor to be held Saturday, Dec. 22, at Berry Hill Mansion and Resort.

Vanison was born to Nathalie residents Jesse and Jimmie Poindexter on Dec. 14, 1912.

The eldest of 13 children she had four sisters, Mary Evelyn Cohen, Susie Geraldine Poindexter, Carlyle Adele Keller and Katie Jean Davis, and eight brothers William McKinley Poindexter,
Arthur Treatly Poindexter, Giles Henry Poindexter, Jesse Harris Poindexter, Charles Swanson Poindexter, Clifton Sheeshan Poindexter, Wyatt McGillian Poindexter and David Ivory Poindexter.

Her parents farmed for a living, raising chickens, cows, pigs and growing a variety of vegetables and tobacco.

As a child, Vanison attended Catawba School in Nathalie and continued on to Mary Bethune High School in Halifax through the 11th grade.  She eventually went back to school and got her G.E.D. 

Vanison recalls her parents and other children’s parents holding ice cream socials for her and her friends at their homes during her teenage years. 

According to Vanison, that’s how she met potential boyfriends. 

Sometimes she and her friends would go to church ballgames and other activities that presented more opportunities for her to mingle with other people her age.

After completing the 11th grade, Vanison moved to Lynchburg and began working at a sewing mill. She moved in with a Caucasian woman she worked for named Mrs. Wood.  While living with Mrs. Wood, she met her husband, James Lionel Vanison.

The two were married on Aug. 28, 1936 by the Rev. Percy E. Jones. Vanison was 23, and her husband was 25. 

The couple would have two children, a son who died two days after childbirth, and a daughter, Dolores Patricia Vanison-Blakely.

“I didn’t even see him,” Vanison said of her son’s untimely death.

Shortly after their marriage, Vanison and her husband moved to Union City, N. J. to live with a cousin for a short stint before moving to the Big Apple.

She and her husband moved into the same building as her sister-in-law located on 2 East 111th St. “smack dab in the middle of Spanish Harlem,” a community located on the upper east side of Manhattan.

After moving to New York, Vanison got a job working for the famous African-American fashion designer Ann Lowe with the help of her sister, Mary. Her sister was Lowe’s daughter-in-law and helped her secure the job.

Lowe was the first black fashion designer to grace the cover of Vogue Magazine. She designed Haute Couture fashions and was responsible for making Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress, which now is housed in the John F. Kennedy Library.

“I was a go-getter. I was trying to get all the knowledge I could in my head. I was determined to be a designer,” Vanison said.

After working for Lowe, she started her own business doing alterations and sewing for people.

 In 1952, Vanison and her family moved to Queens, N.Y., where she would remain until the death of her husband in 1995.

In the year following her husband’s death, she moved back to Nathalie where she currently resides. 

Vanison is a member of Sunflower Baptist Church in Nathalie, and she continued to do a little light sewing up until a recent accident.

In 2011, Vanision broke her hip while visiting her daughter in New York, and now she lives with her daughter part-time.

Vanison said the world has changed drastically over her 100 years. She recalls times without electricity, telephones, television, Walmart and Internet.

 “I don’t see how kids today would have made it back them,” she said.

Back in her day, everything was manual, and today more things are automatic.

She recalls riding to church in a wagon or buggy on Sunday mornings.

Vanison acknowledged the positive changes she has seen over the years including the first African-American being elected President of the United States and integration of schools and other public facilities. 

She also remembers some of the sad moments in her life including the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and the day Martin Luther King Jr. was killed.

Through all the ups and downs, Vanison said she is grateful to have had opportunities to experience so much. But she has a hard time understanding why people seem to be so intrigued by her longevity.