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Greenville centenarian enjoys surprise birthday party

On Tuesday, July 23, she reached a milestone birthday. On Saturday, July 27, friends, family, city and county officials and church members all gathered at the Lurleen B. Wallace Community College Conference Center in Greenville to celebrate the extraordinary life of 100-year-old Magnolia Crenshaw Brown.

“Great Britain has their queen, Elizabeth,” Marvin Rhodes, “Miss Magnolia’s” nephew and emcee for the big event, said. “And we have our own queen right here in Greenville — ‘Miss Magnolia.’ Our intention today is to give you all the glory and honor that you deserve.”

Also known as “Mother Magnolia,” “Mother Brown,” “Sister Brown” and “Aunt Mag” by the many who know and love her, the centenarian was told she was getting all dressed up to attend a gospel singing. It was not until she was wheeled into the center, festively decorated in her favorite colors of blue and white, and heard the large crowd singing “Happy Birthday,” that Miss Magnolia realized the whole community had, in fact, turned out to celebrate this landmark occasion.

A plethora of proclamations honoring “Miss Magnolia” were presented over the course of the afternoon, including plaques and certificates of appreciation from Jesse McWilliams of the Butler County Commission, councilman Boris Thigpen of the City of Greenville and representatives of several area churches, among them Pilgrim Rest, Damascus and Union District.

Greenville Police Chief Justin Lovvorn also stopped by to wish the local legend a very happy birthday.

Those in attendance enjoyed a catered three-course meal and heard numerous stories about the impact “Miss Magnolia” had on many lives — from those she had served as children in the local elementary school lunchrooms, to those she cared for in their homes as youngsters, to people of all ages she mentored through her years faithfully serving in church and being a good neighbor to others in her community.

Thigpen reminded those in attendance the important of “celebrating our treasures.”

“‘Miss Magnolia’ is definitely a treasure in our community and we should not wait and bring our flowers to the graves of those we love, we should honor people like her here and now,” he said.

McWilliams took note of the distinguished guests that stopped by or attended the event, including several judges and physicians, to pay homage to “Miss Magnolia.”

“This just goes to show how highly she is thought of,” he said.

Among those also participating in “Miss Magnolia’s” birthday celebration were Valerie Mickles, Veronica Cheatham, Steven Buskey Jr. and vocalists Chanel Reeves and Jimmy Crenshaw.

“Miss Magnolia” was praised for her steadfast kindness, generous heart and unconditional love by multiple speakers that often referred to the Biblical passage from Proverbs 31 concerning a virtuous woman to describe the senior citizen.

Members of the Matthews and McGowin families were present to share their thoughts about a women they called a very special part of their lives.

“‘Miss Magnolia” took care of my wife, Vivian, and her sister, Elizabeth, and brother, Paul, as youngsters, and later on our own children, and she’s one of the best,” Norman McGowin said. “We are glad to be here for the celebration of her special day.”

“We are here today to celebrate something incredible,” Vivian McGowin added. “I look around and see family and friends I know and love and know we share common ground — the pure love we all have and share for ‘Miss Magnolia.’ She has been a presence throughout my life. There is a country song by Alabama that you may know, called ‘Angels Among Us’ . . . and that is what
Magnolia truly is.”

Church members that had worked alongside her described her as someone who attended every service as long as she was able to do so, serving on many committees, teaching classes, preparing food and being a mentor to others whenever possible.

She was also praised for her culinary abilities, from mouth-watering chicken and dumplings to the best fruitcake you ever tasted. 

“Miss Magnolia” was described again and again as the person “who makes you feel welcome, loved and accepted,” a surrogate mother and grandmother to many who had lost family members or were too far away from their own relatives.

As for “Miss Magnolia” herself, she spoke of her gratitude for the big “do” (“I can’t believe you did this all for me”) and assured her guests that any time she could help them, they had only to call on her.

“This has just been wonderful, truly wonderful,” she said with a broad smile.