Most of us think of our personal history in terms of days, months and years. If we stretch a bit, we might think in terms of decades. But Claude Mingus can reflect on his life over the span of a century since his birthday on Dec. 17, 2011, because the Seymour man turned 100 on that day.
Over 100 friends, relatives and well-wishers gathered from 1-4 p.m. at the Seymour Senior Center to shake his hand and congratulate him on his longevity.
"I don't want to miss a single person," said Mingus, who positioned himself at the door to greet everyone who came through the door.
Many embraced him and engaged him in conversation about memories they shared. His friends at the Wilson-Alexander American Legion Post 306 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1502 brought him a cake to commemorate the occasion. Mingus has been a member of the American Legion for over sixty years.
Mike Cunningham presented Mingus with a framed, Missouri House of Representatives Resolution signed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives Steve Tilly and District 145 Representative Lyndall Fraker.
The document honored Claude Mingus for "his impressive list of achievement that includes being a World War II veteran of the United States Navy, Webster County's oldest living military veteran and a retired employee of the Seymour R-II School District."
Throughout the afternoon, as he spoke with people Mingus emphasized one point.
"I always knew God was with me," he said with conviction. "I couldn't have made it without Him."
He also referred repeatedly to his love of music and how much enjoyment he gained throughout his life because he had the ability to play several instruments including the piano, violin, mandolin, tenor banjo, dulcimer and guitar. His father taught him piano, he said, and then made sure he was lined up for a career in show business by arranging for special lessons. But life intervened in his plans to go to Nashville.
"I knew at least 100 songs," he said, "but then I broke my arm when I was about 30. The doctors in Springfield wanted to take it off, but then the doctors in Kansas City gave me a shot and it came alive again."
Later in the day, two DVD's were played for the crowd. One of them was the story of MIngus's trip on the Ozarks Honor Flight to see the World War II memorial. The other DVD honored Webster County veterans, and gave special recognition to Mingus as the county's oldest living veteran. As the word "Courage" flashed onto the screen, a speaker on the DVD added, "Claude Mingus, you are this man."
During the celebration, many of Mingus's friends and relatives shared their memories of him. Lyle Joye Keen of Seymour talked about the times he and Mingus came to the Seymour Senior
Center on Tuesday evenings to play together with others.
"Claude played the fiddle and I picked (my guitar) along with him," he said. "His favorite song was ‘I Will Waltz across Texas with you in my Arms.'"
Floyd Blankenship remembered Mingus from the times when they worked together at the Seymour schools. Mingus was the maintenance person who worked on furnaces, water, plumbing, electricity and carpentry projects.
"When he fixed something, it was fixed right," Blankenship said. "He is a unique individual who has seen many changes."
"It is amazing to have 100 years of knowledge," said Mike Cunningham. "I got to know him when I first ran for representative, and he used to write letters to Jefferson City when I was there."
Ruby Smith, who knows Mingus because he was married to her husband's sister, said, "Claude was very good to Velda and her children (by her first marriage), Jimmy and Judy. He treated those children like they were his own. Monroe always said he treated his sister like a queen."
Judy Farthing remembers Mingus had huge gardens.
"His turnips were big and good," she said. "I just cooked them with butter, salt and pepper."
Jack Mingus, Claude Mingus's nephew, remembers a story about his uncle and a rooster.
"We had a mean rooster when I was a kid," he said. "I was scared of it. One day it jumped on my uncle's back and attacked him. I never saw it go after anyone else like it did that day. Shortly after, it wound up in the stew pot."
Mingus's niece, Mary Baughan, remembers show Mingus helped her stop sucking her thumb.
"From birth to when I was five years old, I sucked my thumb," she related. "One day he said to me, ‘Tell you what, Sis. If you quit, I will go to town and buy you the prettiest doll they have.' So I quit and he got me the doll. He lived with us quite a bit over the years."
John Mingus, another nephew, remembers the music parties Mingus had at his house.
"It must have been sixty years ago," he said. "Often it was our first snow. The neighbors would gather. I was just a kid, but I remember Roy Dunn would get out and do a jig. They had lots of instruments playing, like an accordion, fiddle, mandolin, and guitar. You don't have music like that anymore. We had homemade ice cream at those parties, too."
Anna Mae Lindsay remembers being best friends with Mingus's stepdaughter, Judy.
"When I was at their house, he would play the piano," she said, "and I loved to hear him play."
Tom Dennis remembers Mingus cleaning out his chimney for him. He also remembers what a big garden he had, and how he would always send home a watermelon or two with him.
"He prided himself on that garden," he said.
Tom Sampson remembers Mingus's great sense of humor when he worked with him at Brown Shoe Company at the old Lee Plant.
"Then he left to be the janitor at the school," he said. "I remember one time he asked some of the boys at the school if they knew how to check to see if a light bulb is burned out. They said they didn't, so he held a bulb up to the side of his head and told them, ‘You shake it like this.' Instead of shaking the bulb, he shook his head, and the boys laughed and laughed. My son, Andy Sampson, was in that group of boys, and he still laughs about it."
Mingus, who continues to lead an active life, lives at Glenwood Healthcare in Seymour, where he can frequently be found playing the piano for the other residents. He practices daily for 30 minutes to keep his fingers exercised.
He attends the First Baptist Church, where Pastor Adron recently presented him with a "Happy 100th Birthday" cap and had the congregation sing "Happy Birthday" to him.
If he had to give a piece of advice, what would this new centurion tell people? He would tell them, he said, to take care of their body and keep their health.
"You need to keep your body clean," he added. "No one else is going to do that for you."