Willie Mae Young: Ward 7 Resident Turns 100

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Willie Mae Young, who turns 100 years old on June 24, 2023, sits at a restaurant with her great-grandchildren—Nasir (standing behind her), Jace, and Londyn by her side, and Jaxon on her lap.

Willie Mae Young, a deep-rooted Ward 7 resident, celebrated her 100th birthday on June 24, 2023.

The centenarian recently relaxed in her living room in the house on O Street SE that she has occupied since September 1967 and shares with her daughter, Alice Marie Hackett. The elder, who retains her sharp mental acuity, talked about the keys to living a long and happy life.

Faith in God
After spending more than a centennial on planet Earth, Young is qualified to dispense advice to others wishing to duplicate her protracted existence. According to the lady born under the astrological sign of Cancer, one of the main reasons that she has endured and continues to thrive, despite being wheelchaired bound and no longer able to walk, is her “conviction in God and the close relationship” she maintains with Him.

Alice Hackett, 66, (left) enjoys her retirement party with her mom, Willie Mae Young, after working 28 years for the District of Columbia Government.

“I was married at the Holy Redeemer Catholic Church to Arthur [Givens Young] in 1945 here in Washington, DC. He was from southern Maryland and a member of St. Vincent De Paul Church,” Young recalled. Her husband was one of those “People of Color” that the Archbishop of Baltimore, Cardinal James Gibbons, advocated for in terms of voting rights and having a church (Redeemer) where “sons and daughters of freed slaves” could worship without confinements.

The couple met after Mr. Young had enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was a soldier stationed in Mississippi and she was a country girl around the age of 21 at the time. Young and her husband had three children. The oldest, Arthur Maurice Young, died in 1977 at 31. The youngest child, Alvin Young, died while still an infant.

Catholic missionaries visited Willie Mae Young (sitting on the left) during Christmas at her Ward 7 home in the Twining neighborhood.

“I was originally a Baptist and converted to Catholicism,” said Young who left the Saint Vincent De Paul parish by the Navy Yard and joined Saint Francis Xavier Church in Southeast DC about two blocks away from the couple’s new home in the Twining neighborhood of Ward 7.

She was not merely a once-a-week churchgoer. On the contrary, Young was heavily involved in the ministries including being vice president of Solidarity, a member of the Holy Name Society, the Hospitality Committee, and the choir, and doing a substantial portion of the cooking at large church gatherings. Later, Young was an auxiliary member of the St. John Society—where members vow to live an apostolic life.

Strong Familial Ties
Always devoted to her family, Young was the last child of Willie and Alice White. They had a total of 11 children. She has outlived them all including her husband who died in 1973.

Willie Mae Young (sitting in the wheelchair) is flanked by her family—twin granddaughters Faith Hackett and Hope Elliott and their children, Ms. Young’s four great-grandchildren.

“I was born on a farm in Prentiss, Mississippi and I used to work with my father helping with the mules and picking cotton. I also helped with the corn and watermelon. I remember that [daddy] had an orchard with peaches, pears, and apricots.”

Her childhood memories in Mississippi were pleasant. Prentiss is also known as Wellington, Indian Point Landing, or Indian Town. According to the town’s website (http://prentissms.com), the population consists of about 1,200 people.

“I always liked helping others. That was always my thing—cooking, gardening, helping people,” Young said while sitting comfortably in a recliner with her daughter, twin grandchildren (Faith Hackett and Hope Elliott), and one of four great-grandchildren who range in ages from 3 to 12.

The matriarch is still an advocate and role model for her family and friends like she was for coworkers at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill for the U.S. House of Representatives where she worked as a custodian and eventually a supervisor for 28 years.

Keeping Active
Despite having two knee replacements and suffering from osteoarthritis, Young still enjoys life as much as humanly possible. She constantly reads (especially the daily Washington Post), watches her game shows on television, and assists her great-grandchildren from time to time with their schoolwork.

“She loves her Steve Harvey and playing cards. Her favorite card game is Tunk,” Hackett. In the past, Young relished dates to a casino where she would partake in bingo or play slot machines.

Although she no longer is able to cook, Young still thoroughly enjoys delicious family meals that feature her favorite southern cuisine—fried chicken, greens, sweet potatoes, potato salad, and pork chops.

“I’ve been knowing Ms. Willie Mae since 1949 when my first child was born,” recounted Mary Lewis who is eight years younger and Young’s oldest living friend. “I lived in the apartment over Willie Mae at 92 N Street in Southwest. She has been a good friend for a long time. Even when she moved, we stayed in contact.”

More than 100 people will pay tribute to Young at her centennial birthday at Saint Francis Xavier Church in June. Close family and friends plan to honor a woman who accomplished more than just existing for 100 years. This is a celebration for a senior with a magnanimous heart who is known for her charitable deeds, and being able to make others smile.

Young shares the love that she has felt throughout the seasons of life, at heights of triumphs and joy and the depths of loss and suffering.

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