LAUREL HILL — McDonald Campbell, Laurel Hill’s oldest resident, turns 104 on Friday.
In 1914, her story began in a little white two-bedroom house on the corner of 1st Ave. and 4th St., where she currently resides. She was born in the front bedroom, now the living room.
Campbell knew Laurel Hill when it was a like a “village” with plenty of shopping, places to eat, and a train that came through the town. Her father owned a grocery store called the Campbell Store for 50 years in the heart of Laurel Hill. It was well known throughout the community for many years, and Campbell’s caretaker said it was one of those grocery stores that sold everything from hardware to ham.
She attended Laurel Hill School from a youth to graduation.
It wasn’t until her father passed away at the age of 52 that Campbell moved back into her childhood home. She wanted to be with her mother, who didn't care to be alone at night, she said.
After graduating from Laurel Hill, Campbell went to college at Florida State University in Tallahassee where she earned a bachelor and masters degree in education.
Campbell dedicated 35 years of her life “or a little more" to teaching. She taught one year at Crestview High School, two years at Marianna High School, and spent many years teaching at Laurel Hill School.
Around Christmas time in the 50s, when Campbell was teaching at Crestview, she stayed late after school hanging Christmas décor and went home. Later that night, another teacher called to tell her the school had burned down.
“She called me and said, ‘You have no job.’ I said, ‘No job? You don’t get fired at night,'” Campbell said.
But, that wasn’t the only time Campbell experienced a school-consuming fire.
When Campbell was teaching at Laurel Hill School, a major storm passed through and lightning struck the building multiple times causing the building to burn down, she said.
“We all cried,” Patricia Gilley, Campbell’s caretaker, said.
Campbell continued to work at the new school building after the fire, which is the location of Laurel Hill School today.
Laurel Hill has been Campbell’s home for many years, but in ’92, she and her cousin from Georgia decided they wanted to travel. Campbell then spent the coming years touring parts of the United States and traveling outside the country to places like Germany, Austria, the Philippines, England, and Japan.
“We took off for a splurge,” Campbell said. “…We had a great time.”
Many of Campbell’s friends, family and some of her students are, as she says, “in the grave.” She never married nor had children. She had two sisters, one that died in childbirth and the other passed at age 11.
Campbell has many close friends around Laurel Hill and at her church, Laurel Hill Presbyterian Church. She has remained a faithful member of the church her entire life.
“I went every Sunday except the last three Sundays,” Campbell said.
Last week, Campbell had pneumonia.
“We thought the Lord was going to call her home then,” Gilley said. “And, when she woke up, she wanted a hot cup of coffee.”
Campbell enjoys spending time with her cat, Yellow Boy. She’s had Yellow Boy since he showed up on her front porch as a kitten eight years ago.
Sitting in her wheelchair in the room where she was born, Campbell recalls good memories like the little girl down the street she once played with in the front yard as a child and when an old neighbor mowed the lawn for her and her mother soon after her father passed. She doesn’t know any of her current neighbor’s names.
Gilley, her caretaker of over 4 years, asked what has helped her live a long life.
“God,” Miss Campbell said.