Martha Elizabeth Burnette Marrone turned 100 years old on February 3rd. Martha has thick curls of silver hair and beautiful skin. Martha’s family reunited to throw her a birthday party on Saturday at Wilson Grove Baptist Church in Mint Hill. Relatives traveled from Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Virginia, and even California to wish her well.
It doesn’t take long to realize that Martha’s family is enormous. And they all love her dearly. Each one has a special story of how Martha was there during the hard times. One of fourteen brothers and sisters, Martha grew up in the Wilgrove community in what is now Mint Hill, not far from the church. Back then, folks just called the area “Mecklenburg,” as Charlotte was the only incorporated town in the county. Martha went to nearby Bain School for her education.
Martha’s two remaining siblings are John Burnette at age 89 and Della Bynum at age 85. Della says, “We were a big family raised on a farm. Martha was the oldest girl, and she had to take care of the babies so our mom could help in the fields. Daddy sharecropped until we had enough money to buy a farm of our own.” The family attended the Wilson Grove Baptist Church, a one-room plank building that sat across from the current church’s location. “It was founded in 1881 in a grove of trees,” says the current pastor, Rob Mariucci. “Back then, there was just an old gravel road leading to the church with maybe five families on it.”
The Burnette family grew corn and cotton and kept work horses to plow the fields. They raised chickens and milked cows. Life on the farm was hard, but Martha says, “We always had plenty to eat.” Martha decided to take a job in city waiting tables in a nice restaurant that catered to the local businessmen. That’s where she met him. Dominick Marrone was a handsome, dark-haired Italian man from up North whose family had settled in Monroe to operate a family business. When Martha had finished taking his order, the first thing he said to his friends was, “That’s the girl I’m going to marry.”
True to his word, Dominick later hired a limousine and told the driver to take him and Martha to York, South Carolina where they were married in 1937. The two settled in Monroe to raise their family. Their three daughters are Sue Horrick, 78, of Okeechobee, Florida; Mary Elizabeth Helms, 77, of Myrtle Beach; and Martha “Donnie” Quinn, 69, of Asheville.
Sue tells a story of Dominick’s family immigrating to the states. They came through Ellis Island from Italy with almost nothing. Sue says, “When they arrived, the Salvation Army fed them and got them a place to live. When Dad grew up, he gave the Salvation Army a $100 bill every Saturday. For the longest time, we never knew why he did that. He said if he was ever able to pay them back for their help, he would.” She adds fondly, “Dad and Mom were the best looking couple in town.” Sadly, Dominick passed in 1952 at the young age of 36 with aplastic anemia.
Martha shared her husband’s spirit of generosity. Sue says of her, “Mama was always a caregiver. She gave and gave. If someone died in our town [of Monroe], she would cook and take meals to the family. She took care of everybody all her life, even when she really wasn’t able to do it.”
Della adds, “She’s really done a lot for the family over the years. She’d always go see friends in the nursing home, and she helped take care of Dominick’s parents when they got older. She also helped take care of our sister-in-law after she had a cornea transplant. And Martha has helped so many others.”
Martha’s family has grown to five living generations with seven grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren, and two great, great grandchildren with one more on the way. The grandchildren remember their grandma cooking her famous chicken and dumplings and an authentic Italian recipe of spaghetti with sauce that she learned from Dominick’s family. “I learned to make spaghetti sauce like his mother,” Martha says with a twinkle in her eye.
These days, Martha spends her time at a nearby assisted living facility with her best friend and roommate, Dot. Martha loves to get her nails done, play bingo, and walk. Martha is a living miracle after falling and breaking her hip at 98 in 2015. She made a remarkable recovery by working hard in therapy and keeping high hopes of being self-efficient.
Martha enjoys going out for cheeseburgers at Hinson’s Drive-In, a local establishment owned by her grandson, Phil Hinson. Phil and his children, Dalton, Maggie, Sarah and Ellie, help Martha with her day-to-day activities, and they love hearing stories of handsome Dominick. “I still keep his picture by my bed,” Martha says of her true love.
Martha arrived by white limousine on Saturday to greet dozens of guests who gathered together to share their good wishes with her.