By Gwen Sisson
The McDonalds believe a love of God and good genes plays a key role in their longevity, as the four remaining Winston County siblings have lived well into their 90s.
Major Jewel McDonald, 98; Ozola McDonald Eichelberger, 96; Mildred McDonald Bell, 94; and Georgia McDonald Rice, 99, were all born and raised in Winston County.
McDonald and Eichelberger continue to live in the place they have called home their most of their lives.
Eichelberger said the key to their longevity was the love of God and learning to work hard. McDonald agreed. “The blessings of our Lord.”
“We inherited good genes as well,” said McDonald. “Our grandfather lived to be about 105. Of course, they did not have real birth records and such back then.”
The McDonalds were reared by their mother. Their father died when McDonald was a young child. Their mother raised 13 children.
“Our mother kept us together and taught us all how to work,” said McDonald.
She taught her brood of 13 children a lot of life lessons. McDonald recounted seeing a car on the road when he was a boy of nine or 10 years old. At the time, it was a very rare thing. McDonald said he and a cousin saw one of the few cars in Winston County driving past their house and they decide to hop on the back for a ride. As soon as they did the car pulled into their neighbor’s driveway, which was exactly where his mother was visiting to help the neighbor who was ill. Needless to say his mother caught him and taught him a quick lesson to always do what is right “since you never know who is watching you.” It was a lesson he would never forget.
Eichelberger believes, just like her mother, that teaching and training a child starts at home. She noted that keeping the family in church is important. Eichelberger credits her mother as the main source for her learning and, just like her mother, she taught all of her 14 children to “walk upright” and how to work hard. And like her mother, Eichelberger farmed and has had a garden every year. She hopes to have one this year.
She said when she was young, the whole community helped raise a child and everyone worked together to protect all children. Eichelberger said that community spirit is not evident today.
“We (still) need to tell the young people how to go in life,” said Eichelberger. “Children today have a real chance at getting an education…Glad God kept me here for all these different changes…The election of Obama was a sign of the improved times.”
Eichelberger said changes to access to education for the youth and the improvement in equal rights have given people real opportunities.
“A lot has changed and the focus on education and giving everyone an opportunity to learn is important,” Eichelberger said. “Children have a real opportunity to reach their potential if they work at it.”
McDonald farmed half his life in Winston County and then moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he worked for the Kroger Company for 33 years in the wholesale division. He moved back home to Winston County when he retired.
McDonald said it is vital to teach people the importance of hard work. He said that since he was old enough to work he was only without a job for 57 days.
“There are much better opportunities today and people can raise a family with less fear today,” McDonald said. “I never thought I would live to see the changes I have seen. Horse and wagons were the main way to go when I was growing up and now you have cars and airplanes. Never would have thought I would live to see a black president. There was no such thing as even voting for us when I was raised. I have been blessed to be afforded to see these changes.”
The other two McDonald siblings, Georgia Rice, 99, lives in Cleveland, Ohio; and Mildred Bell, 94, lives in Little Rock, Ark. Both Rice and Bell were born and raised in Winston County.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to their advancing years and distance, Rice and Bell were not able to participate in the interview.