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Delano Gillian celebrates 100 years with family, cake and party

This column is fueled by family genealogy, heritage and local history, and one of the rare occurrences is an opportunity to write about one becoming a centenarian. It is of note that two first cousins celebrated this memorable milestone during the month of July. Delano Cumi (Drake) Gillian was born on July 13, 1910, and her cousin, Freddie Oleta (Frazier) Williams, was born on July 30, 1910. Their mothers were sisters, and the families were neighbors in the Burnout community of Northern Covington County.

Delano is the daughter of Colburn and Mary Elizabeth “Sugar” (Thomasson) Drake, and Oleta is the daughter of James Richard and Freddie Loretta (Thomasson) Frazier. Since the families were close kin and lived near each other, these two ladies were dear friends and cousins during their childhood and remained so for their 100 years.

Both of the girls grew up in the shadow of their Grandfather Jefferson Sylvanus Thomasson, a proud Confederate Veteran, who lived to an advanced age of 95 years. They were often in his presence and are able to recall pleasant memories of those treasured times. Just imagine how they would often sit on his knees as he shared favorite stories with them.

Delano grew up to have a very close relationship with her grandfather as will be revealed in a brief summary of her life. She is not able to talk about her past without frequent references to “Papa” as she affectionately called him.

Delano attended the public schools in Dozier and graduated from Dozier High School’s Class of 1932. During her school years, she was a popular student and excelled in girls basketball, which was a respected sport for girls. She also loved dancing and became quite well known for her performance of the Charleston. She was always dressed stylishly in dresses made by her mother, a reputable seamstress.

Upon graduation she moved to Jacksonville, Fla., where she attended the Jacksonville Barber and Beauty College of Science. There she became fully accredited as a hair stylist and was licensed to give facial massages. She returned home and secured a job in a local beauty salon in Greenville.

After building a good clientele, she opened her own shop, the Vanity Beauty Shop, which is still in operation. She sold it in 1993, but she reserved her own booth, which she used for a few special customers until the last few years. She became quite a successful businesswoman in her career field.

Delano was married in 1939 to Hubert Levon “Pug” Gillian/Gilliland, son of Columbus Joshua and Myrtle Pansy (Clackly) Gilliland. The couple did not have any children of their own, but they showed considerable interest in their nephews and nieces.

During the spring of 1939, Delano was in a photograph with her Grandfather Thomasson. He had ridden a bus from his home in the Burnout community to Montgomery to attend an event at the Alabama Archives. His Confederate company’s flag was being returned from a northern state to Alabama for permanent archiving. During his return trip, he took a layover in Greenville to visit with his granddaughter, Delano Drake. While there, he insisted on going with Delano to the studio and having their picture made together. His Cross of Military Honor, gifted to him upon his return from the war, is proudly displayed on the lapel of his suit, so the occasion was obviously very special to him. The photograph has become a treasured keepsake for the entire family.

It is no surprise that 10 days later, Delano was at her grandfather’s bedside, holding his hand as he took his last breath. Ten days earlier while in Montgomery, he had stood in rain during the emotional flag ceremony, and from the exposure, he developed pneumonia from which he was unable to recover. Throughout the years, Delano has made certain to keep her beloved grandfather’s memory alive for all the family.

On Sat., July 17, Delano’s family honored her with a 100th birthday celebration at the family’s home place in the Burnout community along U.S. Hwy. 331.

The attractive country home, which is painted yellow and has several outbuildings and structures including a windmill, has been kept in a comfortable state of repair for family gatherings. The children each chose a bedroom to decorate and use as they pleased and have enjoyed spending as much time as possible there during some 40 years.

Delano’s special occasion was planned and staged by her nieces and nephews. There were around 100 guests including relatives and friends who attended to offer congratulations and best wishes. Among these were former customers and fellow-beauticians at her beauty salon in Greenville. One of these was the first student she trained to be a hairdresser. Another special guest was Hazel (Hogg) Rawls, the only other surviving member of their high school graduating class.

Of course, there were numerous neighbors and relatives who called to honor Delano. Although she did not have any children of her own, she is close to her many nieces and nephews and their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. There were five generations of her family represented. Among the great nieces was one named for her, Silence Delano “Siddy” (Grumbine) Belcher, daughter of Steve Grumbine and granddaughter of Delano’s sister, Edith (Drake) Grumbine, all of Maryland. Siddy, who is married to Eric Belcher, is Delano’s God child.

The special activities were staged in the large den and dining area with the following stations: A buffet table with assorted finger foods appointed with a floral arrangement, a picture display of special occasions in Delano’s life, which included her big “D” from playing basketball at Dozier High, the birthday cake in the design of three individual cakes shaped like a one numeral and two zeros, and the honoree seated near the cake.

During the weekend, Delano showed her remarkable courage by accepting a ride on her great-nephew, Nicholas Drake’s, three-wheeler. She continuously told all the relatives how much she enjoyed every part of the celebration. She was especially pleased to have her three surviving sisters present: Edith Grumbine of Maryland, Collyer Grider of Pensacola, and Ollie Jo Meeks with husband, Harold Meeks, of Montgomery. She loved seeing each person who called and worried she might have forgotten to invite someone.

Appreciation is expressed to several relatives for providing information and photos for this writing: Collyer Grider, Ollie Jo Meeks, Wynona Anders and Jennifer Drake Gonzalez.

Anyone wishing to contact this writer, Curtis Thomasson, may do so at 20357 Blake Pruitt Road, Andalusia, AL 36420; 334-222-6467; or e-mail: cthomasson@centurytel.net.

Delano Gillian is pleased with her birthday cake symbolizing her 100 years. | Courtesy photo