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Tolbert celebrates 100 years

Leta Tolbert has seen many changes in her 100 years of life — her birthplace of Spring City, Tenn., is now mainly underwater thanks to the Chickamauga Dam, and the mill town of Lupton City is all but deserted.

“I’ve lived all around this village,” said Tolbert of Lupton City, where she boarded in the home next door to the one she now owns when she came to Lupton City amid the Great Depression in 1934.

She arrived with just 86 cents in her pocket, and she happened to meet a girl she knew from high school whose aunt owned a home in Lupton City and offered her room and board before she was hired on at the mill. She shared her room with three or four other girls, but said she didn’t mind the crowded living arrangements, as she had electricity (one drop cord for a light) and running water for the first time in her life.

“I had never been away from home, and it was the first job I had,” said Tolbert. “In the county where I lived, you had to go about a half-mile to the john, and you had to start early or you didn’t get there soon enough. I was just thankful to get a job.”

She started out running yarn through frames at the mill, and eventually ended up doing time-keeping duties. After she got married, she and her husband purchased her current home through the credit union, making just one payment before paying it off in cash.

“I didn’t buy anything on credit,” said Tolbert, who also purchased her first car in cash.

The post office, commissary and dry cleaners that were once the center of the village in Lupton City are now shut down, as is the mill that was its lifeblood.

“It’s all I’ve ever known,” Tolbert said of her life in Lupton City. “I had a good home [in Spring City] where we raised everything we ate. This is just different, and I felt like I had stepped up a notch.”

She has watched the little village of Lupton City die out as Dixie Yarns was sold and the buyer shut down the mill. The post office closed down several years ago, making the church the only public gathering place. She remains active at Brooks Memorial United Methodist, where family and friends recently gathered in celebration of her 100 years of life.

Tolbert said spending an hour walking every day has helped maintain her good health.

“You have to exercise and don’t eat junk food,” she saidwhen asked for advice on how to live a long life. “The first thing you do is pray every morning for the Lord to help you, and he will.”

She also has a glass of “Joggin’ in a Jug,” a concoction she said was at one time sold in stores that she now mixes for herself. Her recipe makes enough for about a week’s worth of 4-ounce glasses.

“I’ve been drinking it for 30 years,” she said.

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