Friends and family gathered in Seymour to recognize an amazing century’s worth of life.
Charlotte “Lottie” Mitchell was the guest of honor. The woman was celebrating her 100th birthday, delighted to be surrounded by dozens of people at her home at the Covered Bridge Health Campus.
But it wasn’t until the party started that the real surprise came. A fellow centenarian and former Franklin High School classmate Harold Thompson walked in to the celebration, leaving Mitchell with a look of shock on her face.
“That was about the highlight of the party,” said Claude Mitchell, Charlotte’s son.
The Mitchell File
Who: Charlotte “Lottie” Vardiman Mitchell
Born: April 27, 1912
Education: Graduated from Franklin High School in 1930
Former occupation: Nurse’s assistant at Schneck Medical Center, Seymour
The Thompson File
Who: Harold Thompson
Born: Sept. 25, 1912
Education: Graduated from Franklin High School in 1930
Former occupation: Senior vice president for American United Life Insurance Co.
For both Thompson and Mitchell, the occasion was a demonstration of the bond that existed between the friends and former classmates. Their lives had moved them away from Franklin to different parts of Indiana, but they never lost the connection that was formed as graduates of the Class of 1930.
Every year, the class would meet for a one-day reunion. They kept gathering until 2000. Now, Thompson and Mitchell are the only ones left from their class.
“We always tried to stay in contact. Girls always have to be the ones to organize that, because boys never get around to that,” Thompson said, laughing.
In 1930, Frankin’s high school was located in a hulking brick building on Jefferson Street. The country was struggling through the early stages of the Great Depression, and many graduates of the class faced bleak job prospects.
The class grew up in hard times, which explains why they were so close, Lottie Mitchell said.
‘The Lord has blessed me’
As a student at Frankin, Lottie Mitchell was in the Sunshine Society service organization for four years. She also studied French and was a member of the Junior Red Cross.
Thompson had joined her in the Junior Red Cross, as well as being active in the Hi-Y Club.
Lottie Mitchell lived in Franklin until she married her husband, Claude. As a serviceman for the U.S. Navy, he moved his wife to California briefly before returning to Indiana to settle in Seymour.
“They bought a house, and she lived there for her whole life, until recently,” Lottie Mitchell’s son Claude Mitchell said.
Mitchell, who turned 100 on April 27, had four children. Claude Mitchell, the eldest, remembers his mother striving to ensure her children had every opportunity in life.
One of her most difficult periods of her life was going through the Depression, Charlotte Mitchell said. Her house was near railroad tracks, and a good-hearted engineer would throw unused coal out on the ground for needy people to give them something to warm their homes.
“She wanted us to have a lot more than her and Dad had, and the biggest thing was education,” Claude Mitchell said. “She made sure we did our work.”
A lover of nature and the outdoors, Lottie Mitchell studied birds and kept bird feeders in the backyard of her house.
She also followed baseball her whole life. Once a year, the Mitchell family would take a trip to Cincinnati to see a Reds game. That was the highlight of her summer, she said.
She still loves to watch the team. When her kids come to visit, they’ll turn on the game.
“The boys will find a baseball game. They like to sit and watch,” said Susan Mitchell, Lottie’s daughter-in-law.
Now a resident at Covered Bridge Health Center, Lottie Mitchell still enjoys watching nature out of her window. She’s an avid reader with a large collection of romance novels.
She is known for her sense of humor and her good nature around the center. In her 100 years, she’s learned to look for the positive in every situation, she said.
“I’ve truly been blessed. The Lord has blessed me with a good, long life,” Lottie Mitchell said.
Grabbing for 100
Thompson grew up in Needham, going to school in one-room schoolhouses until eventually matriculating at Needham Township School. After finishing junior high at the township school, he went to Franklin High School.
Though a basketball player when younger, he never went out for the team in high school. Rather, he was more interested in joining the Hi-Y Club, bringing Bible study and other Christian activities to the school.
When he graduated, Thompson, like most of his classmates, had difficulty finding a job.
“It wasn’t easy to get work. I went to business school for six months, ran out of money, and they talked me into coming back,” he said.
While working in a lunchroom, Thompson became friends with some employees at American United Life Insurance Co. They encouraged him to apply for a job.
Not sure what to expect, he took the insurance exam and answered their questions. When they told him he’d been accepted, he celebrated.
“When I got a yes answer, it was the greatest thing I ever heard in my life,” he said.
Thompson ended up staying with the company until he retired in 1977. The only break he had was while serving as a radarman in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1945. Though he started in the mail room, he eventually worked his way up through the company to be a senior vice president.
Now living at Hoosier Village Retirement Center in Zionsville, he never thought much about turning 100. When he reached the milestone on Sept. 25, he downplayed that he had not done anything special to get there.
“A lot of people seem like they’re grabbing for it, they’re grabbing for 100,” he said. “If I ever got here, I always wondered what I’d do with myself.”
The one good thing about it was getting to see his old friend Lottie Mitchell again, he said.
Reunions were a regular summer event ever since they left Franklin High School, he said. The first one was in Province Park in downtown Franklin just weeks after they all graduated. Later events moved to the Indiana Masonic Home.
People would travel from across the country to be at the reunions. Former teachers would attend, and their children and families also would join in the celebration.
“They really had a closeness as a class, probably because of the times and what they went through,” Claude Mitchell said. “I had more fun going to mom’s class reunions than going to my own.”
But over the years, the number of living class members continued to thin. By 2000, the year of the final reunion, only 10 remained.
That made it so special that Thompson was able to make this trip.
Originally, he wasn’t going to be able to make Mitchell’s party in Seymour. But he was able to make the trip with his daughter, Jan Arnold, to surprise her.
For Thompson’s party in September, Lottie Mitchell was unable to make the trip to Zionsville. But Claude and Susan Mitchell were there to wish him a happy 100 years.
“They have a genuine like for each other. There’s so much respect for each other and are glad they could get together,” Susan Mitchell said.