Rosa Mae Baker Perry turned 100 years old on April
3rd. An avid scrabble player, quilter, and seamstress, Rosa still manages to find time to read the Smithsonian Magazine and the National Geographic Explorer. She reflects on her long life and the traveling she has done over the years.
Rosa was born in the year 1917, just as the United States entered World War I. Her family lived on a farm in Franklin County where her father grew tobacco and cotton and a large vegetable garden for the family. Rosa was chosen from her six brothers and two other sisters as the milkmaid of the family.
A few years later, the Great Depression struck the country, and many children were unable to complete school. Rosa’s family couldn’t afford the textbooks she needed to finish her high school years.
Rosa’s family valued education. Her own grandmother had attended college, a rare achievement for women of that era. It wasn’t until Rosa was grown that the North Carolina governor at the time instituted a textbook rental program making books affordable to working families. Rosa decided to brave any ridicule she might face and re-enroll in high school at age 23. Three years later, Rosa graduated from high school, the oldest in her class.
After graduation, Rosa took the civil service exam and accepted a position in the Pentagon in our nation’s capital to work in the Prisoners of War office during the throes of the Second World War. That’s where she met Staff Sergeant, Azzan “Mac” McKagan. Mac was a gunner in the U.S. Air Force. He had returned from the battlefield with a shoulder injury, and he was taken with the pretty young lady working in the POW office. Rosa laughs, “The first time he asked me to marry him, I said no.” Rosa and Mac married and had a son, Michael Azzan McKagan.
Not long after, Mac returned to Germany to help with the reconstruction and was killed in a Jeep accident. Rosa, determined to raise her young son, returned to Zebulon where her parents still lived. There she met Herbert “Bill” Perry, who worked at the Zebulon Drug Store. They married and had two children, Gregory Herbert and Lydia Candace. They finally settled in a little house on Franklin Street to raise their young family.
Rosa remembers fondly the times she and her family played music and sang together. “We had a little quartet,” she says. “People would come over to the house to hear us sing.” Rosa’s voice is still strong and clear. She sings the Star Spangled Banner, remembering every word. She credits her singing voice and her long life to her faith in God. “The Lord sent me here for a purpose, and I’m living within that purpose,” she says. “I tell people about the goodness and kindness of the Lord.” She quotes the words of John 3:16 and says, “That’s my belief.”
Rosa’s family and friends will celebrate her birthday with a party at Clear Creek Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Mint Hill where Rosa currently lives.