Nearly 200 friends, family, admirers and former students packed Morning Pointe Wednesday afternoon to celebrate the life of Ora-Mae Cheaney, Frankfort’s newest centenarian.
“Mrs. Cheaney … my goodness, do you have loved ones,” Morning Pointe Director Charlene Groves remarked as the large crowd settled in.
With Cheaney front and center in an armchair that dwarfed her tiny frame, many took the opportunity to recognize her impact as a leader in Frankfort’s schools, notably her 19 years of service at both Mayo-Underwood School (1938-1957) and Kentucky State University (1957-1986).
Before becoming an educator, Cheaney graduated from Kentucky State College in 1935 with a degree in economics. The same year, she started teaching in Henderson, Ky., in a one-room school, moving to Frankfort’s Mayo-Underwood three years later.
During her tenure at Mayo-Underwood, Cheaney earned a master’s degree in home economics from Indiana University and studied at Iowa State University, University of Kentucky and the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Several local politicians were on hand to honor Cheaney, including Rep. Derrick Graham, City Commissioner Bill May and a spokesperson from Gov. Steve Beshear’s Kentucky Commission on Women.
Graham credited Cheaney and her late husband of 65 years, KSU professor Dr. Henry E. Cheaney, with forging a connection between KSU and the community.
“You planted that seed,” Graham said. “You were a connecting force between those who lived downtown and those who lived uptown, and for that we thank you.”
May announced proclamations from both the city and the county that Aug. 1, 2012, be officially declared Ora-Mae Cheaney Day, and offered the 100-year-old a gift only he could give.
“Mrs. Cheaney, you can park any place you want in Frankfort today,” May said with a smile.
“Tough but caring,” “pillar of the community” and “beloved educator” were recurring sentiments from KSU representatives, former students, in-state and out-of-state friends and Morning Pointe staff as many took a 2-minute turn at the microphone to express thanks.
“You taught me how to sew in your home economics class,” one former student said.
“She taught me how to put on lipstick,” another recalled. “She was good, fair and feisty and always welcomed me into her home.”
Mary Tillman, a home economics student of Cheaney’s in 1952, brought a blue patchwork blanket to give to her former teacher.
“She taught me how to sew, and that’s how I made this throw,” Tillman said with a smile.
Dr. Lee Charles Harris, a friend and fellow educator, presented Cheaney with a motorized scooter, courtesy of Capital Pharmacy. Cheaney seemed thrilled by the gesture, riding the scooter through the packed lobby to greet friends.
“God had a plan and I didn’t meddle in it,” Cheaney said of her long life. “Making it to 100 makes me very happy.”