One hundred years ago when Alphonso Hayes was born, the population in the U.S. was one-third of what it is today, and a gallon of gas cost less than 20 cents per gallon.
On Tuesday, Hayes celebrated his centenarian birthday. Although born in 1913, the same year as Richard Nixon, Rosa Parks and Vince Lombardi, he managed to outlive those historic figures.
Hayes said his secret to living a long and healthy life is to treat everybody right.
On Saturday, about 50 members of Hayes’ extended family and friends celebrated his birthday at the Cleather Hathcock Community Center in Alachua. The room was decorated with birthday balloons, party favors and three cakes — one dedicated to each number of his new age.
Of those 50 attendees, Elijah Strong stood out for his dedication to helping “Uncle Phonso” for the last 20 years.
Strong married into Hayes’ extended family 40 years ago. He now helps Hayes by cooking, cleaning and taking him to most of his appointments.
“He is kind and soft spoken,” Strong said. “He has his own thoughts — but slight dementia — but how much can you really fit in after 100 years?”
When Strong was asked how much Hayes affected his life, he said, “You don’t have enough paper.”
Other than some memory loss, Strong said Hayes has unbelievable health.
“He is taking two real pills and the rest are vitamins,” he said.
Hayes survived third-degree burns at age 84 and most recently a hip replacement. He healed quickly in both cases.
Although Hayes is now in a wheelchair, he had his driver’s license until last December.
On Saturday during his party, family members wheeled him in. He was wearing a dapper light blue suit with a white bow tie and polka-dot socks.
Hayes greeted guests with a smile and a long, firm handshake. He didn’t say much.
Five generations were in attendance. Being the 10th of 12 children, Hayes is the last member of his generation.
Hayes’ grandparents’ families both emigrated to Alachua from South Carolina in the early 1800s. His grandmother’s side settled in the Pine Orchard Settlement and his grandfather’s in the Mount Nebo Settlement.
One of his great nieces, Gloria Roberts from West Palm Beach, described him as a “very humble” man.
She remembers going out to Hayes’ farm over the summer and working in the tobacco fields where he also grew watermelons, peanuts, corn, potatoes, cantaloupe and pecans.
“He made you very welcome at his place and whatever he could do for you, he did,” Roberts said.
At its largest, his farm spanned 200 acres. Now it rests on about 40 acres, along with three homes that the family built over the years.
The first is a small home where he and his wife, Minnie Jane Briggs Hayes, who died last summer, began their married life that lasted more than 65 years. About 60 feet from that home, they built a second one. Twenty-four years ago, the third house was built 200 feet away.
Hayes served in the army stateside from 1942 to 1945 until he was discharged. While in the service, he was a transporter and drove officers wherever they needed to go.
After his service, he worked 20 years as a janitor at Sperry Rand, a large equipment corporation in Alachua County. Sperry Rand closed in 1974.
Hayes also served at Mt. Nebo United Methodist Church, 9975 NW 143rd St. in Alachua, for most of its existence. Pastor Ricardo George said Hayes is a good man of God.
“He’s done some wonderful things at Mt. Nebo,” George said. “Out of his own pocket, he paid for the disabled walkway and he has his name on the cornerstone of the church.”
Hayes is one of the 4,090 centennials living in Florida, according to the 2010 U.S. census.
Hayes embraces Gloria Roberts, his great niece.
Hayes greets one of his nieces who attended his surprise birthday celebration.