Editor’s Note: We enjoy sharing stories about old North Okaloosa County from long-time residents turning more than 90 years old. Email email@example.com if you or someone you know has a birthday and would like to share memories.
LAUREL HILL — When McDonald Campbell was born 99 years ago, Laurel Hill was the largest community in what is now Okaloosa County.
Campbell vividly recalls when Laurel Hill boasted two banks, a movie theater, a hotel and bustling stores such as Campbell Company, which relatives owned.However, she prefers the town's current, more laid back atmosphere.
"On the Fourth of July I did not hear a single firecracker, and that is certainly indicative that we've grown much quieter,” she said.
Birthday and independence
Campbell celebrated her 99th birthday Saturday with family and friends, including fellow retired educators, with some coming from Alabama and Tallahassee.
After several medical problems this past year, she said jokingly, "If 99 is worse than 98, I don't think I'll be here for 100."
Now recuperated, Campbell remains fiercely independent, recently "letting go" caregivers who sat with her around the clock when she last returned from rehabilitation.
"I just couldn't abide all those strangers in my house," she said. "They'd come in my room uninvited and then want to sit and talk for hours."
To placate relatives, she wears a medical emergency communicator and reluctantly gave up occasionally driving around town to keep an eye on things.
School and church
Campbell started her teaching career after graduating from now-defunct Palmer College in DeFuniak Springs.
"When I started in the fall of '35, the Depression — the Great Depression — was with us, and we teachers made $75 a month for eight months a year with a four-year degree," she said.
"We had heat and lights and that was good, but there was no money for field trips and that kind of thing. And we didn't have any resource officers and we didn't need them."
After teaching seventh through 11th grades, Campbell helped establish Laurel Hill School's library.
"I started at Laurel Hill and I ended at Laurel Hill. I was the librarian — no! I was a ‘media specialist,’ but I didn't care much about the media part of it," she said. "I liked being just a librarian."
Campbell is fascinated by evolving technology, but she said not all developments in education are as beneficial as they're touted to be.
"I know a woman who's taking courses online and she studies hard and she seems fairly intelligent, but ... I think you need somebody there to explain things you don't understand. There's nobody there to teach you if you don't understand something.
"... There's no interaction with other students and taking part in extracurricular activities. All that, to me, is part of your education."
Church and home life
Campbell is Clerk Emeritus of the Session, Laurel Hill Presbyterian Church's governing body. She hosts its meetings and those of the Presbyterian Women community outreach group.
She's renowned among fellow congregants for bringing Bugles chips to church gatherings.
Also close to her heart is her lifelong home.
"I was born right here, in the front room, at 9 o'clock on a Monday morning," Campbell said, adding the house appears in tax records as early as 1908. Her family moved into it in 1914.
Campbell has beaten the nursing home at least three times — a source of pride — and said returning to the tidy white home motivated her, though others couldn’t relate.
“... Home is home. It has connotations they wouldn't understand,” she said. “When you've lived in one house all your life, you feel an attachment. It's part of you."
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.