By Benjamin Cohn
Forks of Ivy – The year was 1919 and the war to end all wars had concluded just a year before Ella Buckner was born. Now, five living generations of a local family gathered Saturday (June 22) at Locust Grove Baptist Church to celebrate their matriarch’s 100 years of life.
Family members spoke kindly about Ella Saturday afternoon before the official start of her birthday party. They described themselves as local, from Weaverville, and having roots in Madison County.
One of Buckner’s two sons-in-law, Rev. Charles Pike, spoke warmly to the Tribune about the time he’s known the century-old birthday girl. “Weaverville, I think, is a great place. It’s where we all live. All of us are close by. We’ve all got kids. These are the old ones, they’ve got great-great grandkids. Five generations” all of which were there to celebrate Ella’s milestone.
“I’ve known her [Ella] all my life. My dad’s farm and Shirley’s [Pike’s wife] farm were back-to-back of each other. We used to slip in and steal his watermelons. When I took his daughter, he said, ‘I might as well give you permission, you done, her like you did my watermelons,” Pike said to uproarious laughter.
Bruce Buckner, Ella’s youngest child and only son, said, “We’re originally from Madison County and we moved to Weaverville when I was a senior in high school.” His father Elroy died 20 years ago, he said. “It’ll be 21 years this fall.”
Bruce reminisced about the past, mentioning some early memories he had of his mother.
“I just remember growing up [working on a] tobacco [farm]. She [mother] worked just like everybody else worked. She worked on the farm and she went to work when I started school, I guess.”
Bobbie Huffman, Ella’s middle child, chimed in and provided engaging background information about Ella’s time growing up.
“She rode a horse and buggy to Asheville when she was little, all the way from Barnardsville. They’d take a horse and buggy and go to Stoney Knob. That was a resting place where they’d feed the horses. It was a grocery store then. It was a two-day trip to go to Asheville.”
Ella’s three biological children, Buckner, Pike and Huffman spoke more about life with their beloved mother. The youngest child recounted the fact that he was the only one to be born in a hospital.
His two sisters were both born at home, they said. Bobbie mentioned that “she had someone with her [to help deliver], but I don’t know who it was.” Besides growing up on working farms, one other aspect seems to have drawn the Buckner clan more closely together than most families, their faith.
Kenneth Huffman, Bobbie’s husband and one of two sons-in-law, said, “three of us were beginning to learn how to preach because she [Ella] had three preachers in her family [Bruce, Kenneth, another son-in-law]. Shirley Pike, the eldest child, said, “my husband [Charles] was a chaplain in the military for 26 years [Army]. He’s an interim pastor at Newbridge Baptist Church.”
As for the particular church the party took place in, the youngest Buckner sibling recalls that “mother and daddy [Elroy] were really the only ones to have a relationship with this church personally. They were both here, and we [children] were of course off in other places pastoring. They attended one of the churches I’ve pastored in Madison County quite a lot. They came there quite a bit.”
Staying local and carefully tending their faith has bound the Buckners (and all the various new surnames added to the family) more firmly than ever. While some have moved as far as New York, their hearts will remain in Western North Carolina forever with the 100-year-old mother of the family.