CRESTVIEW — There were laughs, hugs, balloons and cake aplenty at the First Presbyterian Church Jan. 3, when longtime member Bertha Mae Corkins celebrated her 100th birthday surrounded by family, church family and friends. Unable to find a 100th birthday balloon, friends presented her with two 50-year balloons.
Corkins was born to Martha and Alton Smith in Mossy Head in 1913, before Crestview was a city and before Okaloosa County existed. Her father worked at the Louisville and Nashville Railroad managing a stretch of track in the Mossy Head area.
After the city’s incorporation, Alton Smith became a city council member and was roads commissioner. His daughter shared his concern and affection for Crestview, and over the years was instrumental in spearheading multiple civic improvements, including beautifying the triangular median that once graced the State Road 85-U.S. Highway 90 intersection. She and her husband, Charles Wesley Corkins, helped organize the Auburn Water System.
Bertha Mae married Charles on June 6, 1933, and with her only son, Charles Jr., followed her husband around the country during his 30 years in the Navy. During World War II, she worked in the defense industry in Pensacola.
Originally an enlisted seaman, Charles Corkins Sr.’s wartime service allowed him to advance to a warrant officer, finishing the war as a lieutenant. He ultimately retired as a commander. For about a year in 1956, both Bertha Mae’s son and her husband were on active duty at the same time at the same post.
While her husband was stationed in Pensacola, Bertha Mae helped establish an enlisted wives’ club. Among other civic contributions, club members were hospital volunteers.
“She had, believe it or not, a bout with cancer in the 1940s,” Charles Corkins Jr. said. “It was surgically removed and she’s never had a problem since. She’s always been pretty healthy. I think we were healthier back then, living in the country. And she never went sunbathing. She always wore sun bonnets.”
After settling in Crestview and joining the Presbyterian Church in 1963, she helped start the Crestview Garden Club, the city’s now-defunct Music Club, was an early member of the Women’s Club, and was a founder of one of her church’s service circles.
Bertha Mae worked as a dental assistant after moving to Crestview, and was also a teacher at Bob Sikes Elementary School when it was still a wooden schoolhouse. In addition, she taught a millinery course at Okaloosa-Walton Community College, present-day Northwest Florida State College.
Today, she lives with Charles Jr. and Madelyn, her daughter-in-law, in the home he designed and built in the Garden City community north of Crestview. Bertha Mae’s seven great-grandchildren live nearby.
“My granddaughters love to have tea parties and put on Grandmother’s hats,” Madelyn Corkins said.
Madelyn said she always enjoys Bertha Mae’s stories.
“‘Some of my stories are true, and some I’ve made up, but they’re all very interesting,’” Madelyn said her mother-in-law once told her.
“She had very strong opinions about some of the presidents, not because of their politics, but because of the way they treated their wives,” Madelyn said. “She’s always been a fighter if she believed in a cause. She would come well armed. She had her facts in a row to back her up. She is gifted in so many ways.”
Although active in many community affairs and busy with her careers, “her main job was to take care of me,” Charles Jr. said with a chuckle. “She gave me a lot of freedom growing up, but she didn’t mind stokin’ my rear end if I broke the rules.”
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.