Jessie Smith turned 100 years old this month, and the St. Rose native and resident celebrated the milestone with his family and friends at a party and parade this past weekend.
Smith, known by many in the community as Uncle Jake, is a World War II veteran who needs no assistance walking.
“I don’t need nothing but my legs – thank God,” he said chuckling. “Every year I thank God for my life. I feel good … I feel good.”
Smith was born on August 12, 1922, to Jessie and Mary Smith. He is the oldest of seven children and enlisted in the Army when he was 20.
“There were two or three of us who joined together,” he said of he and his friends. “We were interested in traveling.”
Smith completed basic training in Saint Louis, MO. He later traveled all over the world during his deployment, touching down in places that included Australia, Hawaii, and the Philippines. Australia, he said, was his favorite place to visit.
Smith was part of the 856 Aviation Engineering Battalion during his military service. During WWII his battalion played an important role in providing the worldwide system of bases that were utilized during the war.
One of the highlights of his Army life, Smith said, was unexpectedly running into his brother, who was also in the military, while they were both in the Philippines.
“That was a big surprise,” he said. “I couldn’t have felt any better.”
His current caregiver Linda, who is also his niece, said when Smith was in the Army he would send money home to help support his family.
“When his baby brother wrote to him and told him he wanted a certain pair of pants, he sent the money home for those pants,” she said. “He did take care of his siblings … he really did.”
His generosity and caring spirit, she said, is still evident today.
Smith met his future wife, Evelyn, in New Orleans in 1946 after being honorably discharged. They dated for nearly a year before they were married in 1947.
“She was a nice person,” Smith said. “We got married and had a nice life together.”
The couple raised four daughters – Jesslyn, Eloise, Cynthia, and Anita – in St. Rose. They later welcomed 11 grandchildren, 25 great-grandchildren, and 11 great-great-grandchildren.
Smith said the family loved to go on trips together. He worked as chief engineer at Flint Goodridge Hospital and later at Notre Dame Seminary before retiring in 1989.
Evelyn passed away seven years ago after 68 years of marriage.
“That was a long time,” Smith said. “I miss her too. We had a good life together.”
These days Smith said his time is spent watching going to church, television, cleaning up his yard, sitting on his porch, and reading his Bible. He lives in the same house he raised his family in.
Smith’s youngest brother Harry Smith, who is 80, visits him every day.
“They remind me of Fred Sanford and Grady,” Linda said of the brothers. “You could laugh all day long listening to them.”
Linda said she and her uncle often take walks down the road, and when they pass the cemetery on their way to the park it becomes very evident that Smith’s mental recall of details from decades ago is as sharp as ever.
“He can tell me who their parents were … who their children were,” she said of the tombs.
Smith and Linda’s trips to the grocery store, she said, often amaze people.
“He pushes the basket,” she said. “He doesn’t need a cane or a wheelchair. People are shocked when they find out how old he is.”