100 years of memories: Epperson celebrates a century of life

Tuesday, February 6, 2018
Mary Helen (Fancher) Epperson of Berryville will celebrate her 100th birthday this Friday, Feb. 9. She said she can remember moving to Berryville on a wagon when she was a little girl.
Photo by David Bell/Carroll County News

Mary Helen (Fancher) Epperson of Berryville will celebrate her 100th birthday this Friday, Feb. 9.

While reaching 100 years of age is a rare accomplishment, Epperson said she feels the same as she always has.

“It is unusual, but I don’t feel any different. At age 100, you still get hungry,” she said, laughing.

According to a biography composed by her son Bill Epperson, she was born Feb. 9, 1918, in Connor, Ark., an old township just northeast of Rudd in Carroll County. Epperson grew up with five siblings, the biography says, and life was difficult at the time, as it was for many Carroll County residents.

Epperson’s father abandoned her mother and the family when she was only 5 years old, she said.

“Our father walked off from my mother,” she said. “He told me to tell her ‘I’m gone.’ He got on his horse and rode away.”

If it were not for the kindness of her grandfather, Thomas Clark, life could have taken a terrible turn, the biography says. The family was able to stay with the Clarks, it says, and later moved to Oak Grove for a while before settling in Berryville.

Epperson said she can remember her family moving from Osage to Berryville in a wagon.

Mary Helen Epperson

“I remember coming over here in a wagon,” she said, “but I really don’t know why we moved here. I was 5 years old, so I did what I was told to do.”

As Epperson was reaching school age, the biography says she contracted typhoid, which delayed her starting school by a year.

She said she and her sister had to walk to school, as did most of their neighbors’ children.

“The boys who lived near us had to wade across the river to get to school every day,” Epperson said. “We lived on Eureka Street at the time, and my sister and I walked to school every day.’

According to the biography, Epperson had to walk to school barefoot. When she was able to have shoes, it says they were given by someone who took pity, and the shoes rarely fit, resulting in foot problems later in life.

The family lived hand to mouth, the biography says. Epperson’s brothers trapped rabbits and squirrels, while her mother, Mary (Clark) Fancher, tended a garden and canned in the summer. Fancher helped the family survive by scrubbing floors and working in a tomato canning factory, the biography says.

“My mom had to work like a dog,” Epperson said. “It was a very hard time. I remember her taking the clothes down to the river when we lived in Osage and doing the laundry. The river was right below the house.”

She continued, “My mom did laundry and housecleaning and anything to make money during the Great Depression. She had to work. When my brother, Sam, got old enough, he enlisted in the Navy.”

Epperson’s lunchbox for school was an empty sorghum bucket, the biography, and the lunch inside was a biscuit. Christmas was void of any presents, but, if the children were able to get an orange, it was a moment of celebration, the biography says.

Like many others who had to go to work to support their families, Epperson’s education was cut short. She worked in the same tomato-canning factory as her mother. The biography says Epperson later moved to Oklahoma as a teenager and took a job taking care of Chief Lookout’s children.

Epperson said she worked for Greg and Irene Lookout.

“His father, Fred, was chief of the Osage,” she said. “All they wanted me to do was take care of that baby, nothing else. I went out there to get some work. It was before I got married.”

The biography says Chief Fred Lookout had replaced former chief Bacon Rind. Epperson served as the Lookouts’ nanny for two years before returning to Berryville.

“They wanted me to stay,” she said. “They wrote me a letter asking me to come back.”

She said she remembers the incredible Thanksgiving dinners that Irene would hold for friends and family.

“She had the biggest Thanksgiving dinner,” Epperson said. “She put on a fantastic dinner and invited friends in. It amazed me.”

Epperson married Bill (W.R.) Epperson in 1941. A year and a half later, she gave birth to her daughter, Elizabeth Ann. A year after that, she had a son, Robert. Nine years later, she had another son, William. A third son, Charles, was born two years after William.

She spent much of her life taking care of her family. During that time, the biography says she developed a flair for art and painted many oil-on-canvas paintings.

Epperson said she can also remember the first time she rode on an airplane. She said her neighbors, Bill and Madeline Walker, had a small airplane.

“I flew to Little Rock with them,” she said. “I was scared the first time.”

Epperson said she still has several interests, including the marvel of nature and reconnecting with friends.

She said she is excited about making it to the “Big 100” and wants friends, family and well-wishers to know how much she appreciates their thoughts and friendship.

Cards of well wishes can be sent to 1675 Bunch Springs Road in Berryville.

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