When Bel Alton native Cecelia Yates was born, the United States had just finished fighting in the First World War, when the cost of gas was about 25 cents per gallon and a dozen eggs could be had for approximately 35 cents. She would marry her husband, James Yates, before the Second World War, and during her lifetime, she would live to witness the rise and fall of nations. And this month, she celebrated a milestone few achieve, her 100th birthday.
Family, friends and elected officials gathered Feb. 12 at the Sagepoint Senior Living Services to celebrate Yates’ birth a century ago in Bel Alton.
Charles County Board of Commissioners’ President Reuben B. Collins II (D) presented Yates with a citation and a commemorative Charles County blanket, saying that her birthday was “clearly the celebration of a very important milestone.”
“It’s important to us to celebrate these moments as a community, and we want to say, ‘God bless you, Ms. Yates,’” Collins said.
Yates also received citations from Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and the Maryland General Assembly.
Charles County Sheriff Troy D. Berry (D) said he has known the Yates family for years.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to be here to celebrate this particular milestone, of Mrs. Yates being 100 years old. That’s phenomenal,” Berry said.
Zebrea Ingram, Yates’s great, great, great niece, also spoke.
“First off, wow. It’s great to see someone of your age with such a sound mind … getting love to give it right back,” Ingram said. “Being so wise and being able to pass it down to others. There were many times when I cam to visit and we couldn’t stop laughing over the stories you told me about my family. Wow, sometimes I thought I relived my mother’s childhood.”
“Sometimes people take family for granted, but I sure don’t because I realize how blessed I am to have an aunt like you. You’ve told me so many valuable things, shared so many memories, and shared so much love that I will carry with me together,” Ingram added.
Yates was the oldest of three children born to Thomas and Blanche Tolson of Bel Alton. She attended Bel Alton High School for African-American students during the era of racial segregation. She married the late James H. Yates on Nov. 30, 1939. According to Tiffany McLeod, Yates’ great, great niece, the couple had three sons: James, Lawrence and the late Joseph Yates.
During her lifetime, she worked many jobs, including at the Thunderbird Restaurant, Jimmie’s Paddock, Bluestar Restaurant and Motel and the Glass House, and she also did domestic work for several families in Charles County, said her great niece Ann Simmons.
Her husband passed away in August 1980, but in time their family has grown to include grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren, as well as five generations of nieces and nephews.
Simmons said Yates is the matriarch of her family and loved to cook for people.
“She just loved to cook, she loved family, her nieces and nephews, all of them,” Simmons said.
Simmons said Yates was well-known for her love of perfumes.
“When she used to be at her mom’s house, my great, great grandmother, I used to come by and when we walked in the door, we knew she was there because of her fragrance, her perfumes,” Simmons said. “She was a very stylish lady in her day.”
Yates moved to Sagepoint in 2010, following the death of her son Joseph with whom she had lived.
Asked about life at 100, Yates said, “I have some good days and some bad days, and you know as you get older, you’re going to have some bad days, but life is good.”
Asked how she’s lived to such an esteemed age, Yates said simply, “God.”