Elsie Reynolds has spent her life loving on her ever growing family and standing up for what she believed in. For her 100th birthday, generations of her offspring gathered in Plant City to honor their beloved matriarch.
Elsie Reynolds was on born on March 8, 1919 into a world that was just learning to recover from a war that forever changed history.
She was 8 years old when Charles Lindberg made the first solo nonstop transatlantic flight, lived through the Great Depression as a teenager and entered her 20s when World War II brought the planet back to the brink of chaos. Countries have been established under her watchful eye and states were slowly added to bring the U.S. to its total of 50 stars on the flag.
She watched as the nation learned what it meant to have a dream of equality and held her breath as man dared to walk on the moon for the very first time. Through it all she raised her family, instilling a strong sense of loyalty to family and a deep faith in all who passed through her door.
Last weekend she was surrounded by children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and even great great grandchildren for her 100th birthday party. When asked what her favorite memory has been over all these years Elsie Reynolds smiled and simple said, “Love.”
“It’s love, I loved every one of (my family),” Elsie Reynolds said.
Elsie Reynolds has five sons, 18 grandchildren, 34 great grandchildren and 31 great great grandchildren. Several attended her celebration Saturday and she was also honored by local Kindergarteners from Cork Elementary who wrote her 115 birthday cards.
She was a stay-at-home mom and also worked at Moss Brothers, the cafeteria at a junior high school, was a secretary at West Side Baptist Church, a volunteer at South Florida Baptist Hospital, taught Sunday school at First Baptist and volunteered wherever there was a need.
Her life has always been busy, but she makes it a point to make time for her family. Her dedication is infectious and though several branches of the family tree now live across the country, they all make it a point to stay in touch and the majority come down every year for Reynold’s famous Christmas party.
“It overwhelmed me the first year I was married into the family because they have this giant gathering on Christmas Eve every single year from noon until late at night when everyone slowly leaves,” Crystal Reynolds said. “Some come from as far away as Washington or wherever they happen to be that year. That dedication to family, that always made an impression on me. When it was time for her to kind of retire as host we started having it at our house and the whole family still comes around.”
Elsie Reynolds has never been one to hold back if she thought someone needed to hear what she had to say. Her spunk helped her raise her five sons and they joke without it she never would have successfully been able to keep them in line. She is 4 feet 8 inches and soft-spoken, but the message always comes across.
“I remember when I went to the first day of school once, the second day she came into my room and said, ‘Why didn’t you go back?’ I just looked at her and said, ‘I went yesterday,” her son Ronald Reynolds said. “Another time we skipped school and went down to the radio station. My friends were all smart enough to give them fake names, but I didn’t and they said my name on the air. Well I got caught then, too.”
But his mother operated under the policy of forgive and forget. Holding grudges never helped anything so she lets her thoughts be known and then moves on.
She has always had a sense of adventure and a love of traveling. For her 70th birthday she took a hot air balloon ride from Medard Park to near the airport. While she soared above the city she looked down with glee, but her husband Bernie Reynolds was not so carefree.
“She loved it, but grandpa was so nervous,” Barbara Reynolds said. “He followed as best he could in the truck and he jumped over the fence and ran to her when they landed because he was so afraid that something would happen to her.”
The couple were married for more than 70 years before he passed away. Their adoration of each other is something her family members said they’ll cherish for years to come. Now Elsie Reynolds spends her days at Solaris Healthcare and not a single day passes that her family isn’t there visiting and spending time with her.
She loves spending time outside watching cars pass by and keeping her eyes trained on the tiny lizards that flit among the greenery. A lot has occurred since she was born all those decades ago, but for now Elsie Reynolds is enjoying the little moments that she’s learned make life so dear.