By Chris Edwards
Each trip around the sun is a cause for celebration, but for those who hit the century mark, that achievement is definitely worthy of a big celebration.
Centenarians are becoming more common nowadays, with all of the advances in healthcare and nutrition available. According to the most recent numbers from the Census Bureau, there are around 97,000 centenarians in the United States, and nearly 573,000 around the world.
Yet, still, many of those who reach 100 years young are not without some complications. Longtime Colmesneil resident Frances Ellen “Fran” Wyche is the exception. Wyche, who recently moved to Zavalla, to live with her son on his small farm, still finds a great deal to enjoy from life and activities to keep her mind, body and spirit young and free.
Wyche will celebrate her 100th year on Monday, Jan. 18, and according to her younger sister Mary Ann Kittell, of Colmesneil, she has kept busy all of her life.
Wyche was the first-born child of Herman Walton and Ila Lee. Her father, a WWI combat veteran, had started his family in Detroit, where he had returned after the war to re-settle into his old job as City Electrical Engineer.
Her father was always encouraging of her pursuits growing up, and chief among them was twirling. According to Kittell, their father managed to find the best twirling teachers and even fashioned her batons in his metal shop, perfecting balance and innovation.
Wyche was also the first to use a fire baton, which features materials at each end with a chemical mix to ignite blue, yellow, green and red at the right moment.
She spent her childhood growing up in the Beaumont area, and became the state baton-twirling champion in 1939. Later, she won the national title. Her little brother Tommy was no slouch as a twirler, himself, and took the second-place honors toward the state title in 1939.
Kittell, who is nearly 89, herself, remembered when she and her sister, their parents and other siblings moved to Texas. She recalls it like it was yesterday. “There was no electricity out there in, and it was a shell road. We lived off the old Highway 90 in Amelia,” she said.
Wyche’s talents and lust for life and adventure took her far outside Southeast Texas. After years of ballet and tap dancing, she came home from Baylor to perform in shows that promoted the sale of war bonds and other benefits at the start of the U.S. involvement in World War II.
She married her high school sweetheart, who was a U.S Air Corps pilot, and traveled around the country, as well as into Okinawa, Japan and through China, and beyond. After spending time in Beaumont and Houston, and raising her son, Robin, and surviving two husbands, she worked a variety of jobs, including a stint as a receptionist at NASA. She also managed her brother’s restaurant in Colorado for a time, and later returned home to be with her aging mother and to help her sister at the BBB with public relations and memberships for a decade.
When she moved to Tyler County in 1974, she joined the Round Dance club at the Opera House and helped out as a hostess at the Friday night dinner dances and for many other occasions, her sister noted.
Last year, Wyche moved from her home on Frog Pond in Colmesneil to Zavalla, where she enjoys being around the animals on her son’s farm. “She’s always loved horses,” said Kittell.
Kittell said Wyche still enjoys her half-mile walks each day and enjoys visiting with neighbors and gardening. Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren are frequent visitors, and although her eyesight is dimming, her mind is still sharp, and she enjoys reading and watching television, and good conversation.
She also still looks much, much younger than her years. Kittell joked that she could still pass for her little sister. “She was my baby sister until she turned 90,” Kittell said with a laugh.
Although the pandemic has curbed most celebrations, Kittell has put forth a challenge to Booster readers to surprise her sister with cards to commemorate her milestone.
Anyone who would like to wish this remarkable lady a happy birthday can send a card by way of the Tyler County Booster. Just send them to Frances Ellen Wyche c/o 205 West Bluff, Woodville, Texas 75979.
NOTE: All photos are provided courtesy of Mary Ann Kittell