April 7, 2009
After reaching a milestone earlier this year, Martha Morgan Naylor plans to keep going.
In February, the Gary, Ind., resident turned 100 years old.
"'A hundred down, a hundred more to go,'" read the 1930 Indiana State University graduate from a birthday card before commenting on it. "Oh no, that's expecting too much. If I make it a couple of more years, I'll be doing fine and if I don't, so what? I mean, I've made a hundred and not many people make a hundred."
When she made it to 100, friends at First Baptist Church in Gary, where she has attended for 92 years, threw her a birthday party. Friends and former students filled the fellowship hall to celebrate the life of a woman who loved them, worshiped with them and taught them.
"I was so excited," she said about entering the fellowship hall. "I don't know when I came down to earth."
Naylor lives alone in her two-story house, drives her cashmere-colored Cadillac, remains active in church and mows her lawn.
"It's a self-propelled lawnmower," she said with a laugh. "All you have to do is turn it on, when it starts up all you have to do is guide it. It'll run away with you if you don't hold onto it."
In the Dec. 15, 2008, issue of Newsweek magazine, Naylor was pictured with her lawnmower as part of an article on aging and the search for longevity.
"I had them laughing because I said I never smoked and I never consumed alcohol," said Naylor, who was 99 when the article appeared. "I said, 'But so what, I had a lot of other vices.'"
Nor does Naylor say that she has a secret for a long life and good health, although she admits to eating healthy and years of exercise.
"First of all, I appreciate the help of the Almighty because for some reason I have been blessed. And then I have to give my parents some credit for doing what they did for my genes," she said. "I eat fruits and vegetables. You see, I started out as a young kid eating fruits and vegetables. I don't have likes and dislikes, but I don't particularly like red meat. I concentrate on fish and chicken, but I'm not a choosy eater."
There also were years of daily exercise through her decades of work as a physical education teacher. After retirement, Naylor continued to exercise daily until she turned 84 years old.
"That's the first thing I did when I got out of bed every day, every morning, even after retirement," she said. "And after 84, it just seemed like one thing after another, I would say, 'Oh, not today' or 'I'll do this' or 'I'll do that.' I just sort of dropped off my exercise. Now I wish I had kept it up because I'm losing weight and losing muscle. You don't need to lose that, you need to keep it."
That building of muscle began at an early age on a farm near Auburn, Ala. Naylor was the fifth of five children with two older sisters and two older brothers.
"Living in the country where you don't have a lot of parks and other children, I grew up doing what my brothers did," she said. "I just grew up climbing trees and doing all the boy things -- shooting marbles and running after my brothers or with them. Kids' play."
In 1917, when Naylor was 8 years old, her father decided to leave the farm behind and work in the steel mills of Gary to provide a better living for his family.
"Gary was just a lot of sand, very few houses," she said. "In the winter, the wind would just pick you up and deposit you anywhere it wanted to. In the summer, with sandals even, the sun would just burn your feet with the sand. But we liked it."
Naylor attended the Froebel School, a kindergarten through 12th grade school in Gary. In high school, an English teacher created a desire in her to teach.
"I had a very energetic teacher and she was, I thought, very kind and knowledgeable so I wanted to become an English teacher," she said.
For her that meant enrolling at what was then Indiana State Normal School, now Indiana State University, which was being led by its fourth president, Linnaeus Hines. Although Naylor attended classes at the school, she could not live on campus due to segregation at the time.
"I was disappointed that I had to live in the city; I couldn't stay at the school," she said.
Instead, she boarded with a family in Terre Haute.
"But they lived far away from the school and all the other kids that I knew were living nearer to the school. I only saw people at the library and in school, so that first year I was disappointed that I was far away from everybody," she said.
The second year she lived in a house that boarded six girls attending the Normal School.
"I got used to that," she said, "because even after four years there they still didn't have dormitories for black girls or black students."
Living with other girls, Naylor learned new ways of economizing and managing her allowance money.
"Instead of eating at a restaurant or buying various dishes to prepare, we'd make a big pot of soup or a big pot of beans," she said. "We'd eat that two or three days and take the rest of the money and go buy hose or any other little thing you think you needed."
Since there weren't many clubs students would spend time together at certain buildings, but Naylor said she didn't have time for that.
"I didn't do a lot of hanging out because I had to study and then I had other things to do. I didn't think too much of a hangout group," she said. "Of course they teased me a lot then. They said when I got interested in a certain young man that nobody saw me that much, but I don't think that was true either."
Naylor said she enjoyed her years in Terre Haute.
"We had so much fun and I teased people all the time at home," she said. "'You know I didn't even know I didn't grow up in an affluent family,' I said, 'and I didn't even know it until I went to college.' There was a girl from Evansville that came down there and she was driving a car and had a fur coat."
While attending the Normal School, Naylor received a new calling in the education field. After she took her mandatory course in physical education, the head of the department for women, Florence Curtis, urged her to switch from English.
"She hounded me, sent for me almost every day," Naylor recalled with a laugh. "She talked me out of English and I went on into physical ed, but I don't regret it because I don't think I would have stayed in English 43 years."
Naylor said teaching physical education came naturally to her.
"Having been a tomboy all my life, it wasn't straining or it wasn't a chore," she said. "It was just having fun."
During the 1930 graduation ceremony, Naylor could hear her 3-year-old nephew crying in the audience as she received her bachelor's degree diploma.
"I said 'Oh no, oh no! That's Jimmy!' But they (family members) were excited," she recalled with a laugh. "I was the first one to graduate from college and of course, everybody was excited. I guess I should have been more excited than I was, but I'm sort of laid back."
With the country sliding into the Great Depression, Naylor thought about moving to North or South Carolina to teach, but instead returned to Gary.
"When I got home, I realized that my family had made a tremendous sacrifice for me to go to school," she said. "I said 'Oh no, I can't leave them now. I'll have to repay some of this kindness.'"
She found a substitute teaching position for that first year before finding a position in which she would remain for the next 32 years. She remembers sitting next to another first- year teacher during a meeting and laughing as the principal spoke about retirement.
"She said 'If I last five (years), I'll be doing well.' I said 'Well, I don't plan on lasting that long,'" Naylor said laughing.
Naylor said she planned to marry and forget about teaching.
Instead she lived with her parents, teaching and helping the family with her salary during the Depression years.
"I wasn't accustomed to a lot of money anyway and my father couldn't get the farmer out of himself so he had a garden down in the bottom of rich soil. We managed," she said about those difficult financial times.
Naylor did marry in 1954, but the marriage did not last.
"From the Depression years in the 30s until '54, I had worked a long time, transacted my own business, went and came as I pleased, did what I wanted to do and adjustment to marriage was a bit difficult," she said. "I chose a man that I thought was very, very interesting. He had spent 20 years in the service, the last 10 in Europe. It was always interesting talking to him, but he wasn't accustomed to civilian life and I was."
Through the Great Depression, the years after World War II, the Bobby Sock era and the cultural changes of 1960s, Naylor taught and coached children in physical education and athletics at Roosevelt -- then a k-12 school -- for 32 years before switching to Beckman Middle School for 11 years.
"I wasn't too involved in civil rights," she said. "I know there were restrictions on me as well as other people, but I felt I was doing all I wanted to do anyway. What else could I do? I guess it's because I was having so much fun and interested in what I was doing trying to help children develop so I didn't get too excited about it until much later."
Naylor said she was pleased with President Barack Obama's election, but that she wasn't excited about his run initially.
"I wondered why on earth would he want to get in all this mess," she said. "I guess he has a lot of energy, a lot of pie in the sky, a lot of opinions and I hope he'll be successful. But I don't see it in such a short period of time because there's too much to straighten out. You have to live through some of this stuff. It's not going to go away overnight. It could get worse before it gets better, but that's just my opinion."
In 1974, Naylor retired after teaching for 43 years, including 32 years at Roosevelt School, which originally housed kindergarten through 12th grade students. Upon her retirement, she created a list of things she wanted to do that included renovating her house, becoming more active in church and traveling in Europe -- all of which she accomplished except for traveling.
"I didn't travel," she said. "I kept saying when I get financially situated I'll travel more, but when you reach the stage where finances will let you travel your energy is gone. You're too old to do all that walking and running. I urge young people, 'I said you may not think you have the money, but let something else go and go on and take your travel as you're going, as you are young because when you get old enough or financially set enough, your energy will desert you and it won't pay off.'"
Naylor continues to try to impact children's lives with education through a program in her church that encourages children to do well school.
"You either pay now or you pay later," she said. "If you help children to get an education, if you help them get some skills where they can provide a decent living for themselves and their offspring, then you've done what you should do. If you don't help them, they don't get an education, they want what other people want and they're going to get it if they have to rob or steal or kill. So you either help them now or you pay for it through their acts of violence."
Writer: Jennifer Sicking, Indiana State University, assistant director of media relations, at 812-237-7972 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Cutline: Martha Morgan Naylor, 1930 graduate of ISU, recently celebrated her 100th birthday. ISU Photo/ Kara Berchem
Cutline: Martha Morgan Naylor looks through some of the birthday cards she received in honor of her 100th birthday. ISU Photo/Kara Berchem
A 1930 graduate of then Indiana State Teachers College turned 100 recently.