Etta Wetherington details life while preparing for birthday party.
Only a few individuals live long enough to celebrate their centennial birthday and reflect on their many years of memories.
Etta Wetherington happens to be one of those people as she will be celebrating her 100th birthday on Nov. 11.
A party will take place on Nov. 5 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Dover, 3223 Gallagher Rd.
The occasion will be in her honor and a time to reflect on her life.
She was born to Lula Alice and Frank Wetherford Orr in Grant’s Lick, Ky. Not long after, the family moved to Newport, Kentucky where she was raised.
“My brother rode a mule 13 miles to get to the doctors to deliver me,” Etta said.
Growing up, coal was a commodity that was a priority at home and her family had to save money just to stock up at the turn of each year.
An aunt invited the family to come down to Florida for a visit, when Etta was 9 years old.
While traveling cross country, their car broke down and the vacation money had to be used for repairs. Once they reached Florida, her parents decided to make the Sunshine State their new home, settling down in Plant City.
During the summer months, she would stay on her aunt’s farm back in Corbin.
At a young age, Etta spent many days picking strawberries and vegetables on the family farm as a means of getting by during the Great Depression – the period of economic hardship around the world that started with the Stock Market crash in the U.S. in 1929 and lasting until 1939.
In Florida, she attended what was once called Turkey Creek School which was deemed as a strawberry school – where students academic year ran from March to December so they could spend the strawberry season growing, harvesting, and packaging the red fruit.
While she was growing up, it was typical for high school girls to get married, she said, but she didn’t want to form that union while in adolescence.
When she finally made that life-long commitment, it was to Joseph Long Wetherington – a Navy officer who served during World War II. He was assigned to the U.S.S. Yorktown, which was attacked and sunk during the Battle of Midway.
Wetherington received numerous accolades after rescuing his fellow comrades who were left in the water.
Although he was praised for his heroism, Joseph came home suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The couple eventually moved to San Diego where he was studying during his service. The military sent him to college in Chicago and graduated with a degree in aeronautical engineering.
“My husband advanced rapidly because he really was a brilliant man,” she said.
They lived in Cincinnati for a while and settled in Plant City, where Joseph worked as a mechanic at a local gas station. The couple resided next door, where they had their first of two daughters, Joetta.
At age 32, Joseph developed polio, which prevented him from serving during the Korean War.
While he was being cared for in the hospital, Etta went back to working in the fields to support the family. However, Joseph did not allow the disease to deter him from staying productive and providing for his loved ones.
He became a dispatcher for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in 1953 and also worked as one for the Plant City Police Department.
That same year, Etta began to work as a clerk for the City of Plant City and went on to serve for over 30 years.
With that position, she became close with former Plant City Manager Nettie Draughon.
Etta also made friends with several of her other colleagues.
“We were a team,” she said. “We only made $12 a week. Every week we put a quarter away and when we got a certain amount, the four of us would go out for dinner.”
She also credits her faith in God as a major factor in the decisions she has made over the years.
“I was fortunate to have a Christian family,” Etta said, and advising others to “stay with your church. Follow Christ. You do that, and you’ll come out alright.”
Etta and Joseph were married for 65 years before his passing at age 89.
She also outlived all of her five siblings as well as several nieces and nephews.
“I saw them born into this world and I saw every one of them out,” she said. “In my bible, it tells me that my days are numbered. I don’t have to sit around and worry about it, because when it’s time, I’m going whether I want to go…”
Up until she was 99, she lived independently but was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in November and stayed in the hospital for a week before being transferred to Solaris HealthCare Plant City.
The rehabilitation center also serves as a nursing facility and its warm staff and fellow residents made her want to stay there, she said.
Her daughters along with her son-in-law visitor her consistently to provide her with additional care and company.
During their stay, she will take the opportunity to tell Richard mother-in-law jokes.
She also dispels the notion that residents are just placed in a home and never see their loved ones, because she constantly sees other residents having visitors as well.
Aside from her daughters, she has eight grandchildren and multiple great-grandchildren.
When asked about her strong connection to the Plant City-Dover area, she said, “You couldn’t drive me away.”
In regards to the outlook she has about reaching triple digits, she quoted her mother saying, “You only get old on the outside. Inside I’m 16. You never get old on the inside.”
She’s lived as a teenager for many decades, a blessing not many experience.