Ota "Otie" McCullough of Wintersville is marking her 106th birthday today, which could well make her the oldest person in the area.
Hence the space devoted to her milestone day, given our normal policy on centenarians is to certainly acknowledge the occasion but limit it to general information and a small photo. This is because more and more people are living to be this old and older. It being more of a common occurrence, turning 100 is not the stop-the-presses news that it was say 30 or more years ago.
But God bless all the local centennarians just the same.
Ota ‘Otie’ McCullough
I talked with Ota a week ago in anticipation of her 106th, surprised to discover that she takes no medicine at all, still has her own teeth, manages activities of daily living such as dressing, rarely misses a Sunday service at Wintersville United Methodist Church where she's been a member since 1964, gave up driving on her own at age 100 and has a pretty good memory.
She and her brother, the late Clyde Huggins, grew up in Carney Run, W.Va., with their parents, George and Ida LeMaster Huggins. Ota - her given name was Mary Ota - was born Sept. 13, 1906.
Growing up in the early 1900s wasn't so easy. "You put up with what you had, which wasn't a hell (she whispers this word) of a lot," she said, leaning toward me from her seat at her kitchen table to give emphasis to the point. "I didn't have nothing."
But they made do with what they had. A cloth flour sack, for example, extended its life as attire. "When we got flour, we'd get it in a cloth sack. Well, mom would rip that apart, wash it all, iron it all and put it together and make me a dress. Oh, that was pretty," she said.
"If you would do that today you would be made fun of as soon as you went out the door," she said.
"My mom washed clothes on a washboard. She'd go to your house and another house, wash clothes on a washboard for $2 a whole week," she said in response to what her parents did for a living. Her dad didn't always have work, she said, but when she was 8 or so, he tested oil wells in the county. When that work dried up, the family moved to Mingo at the encouragement of her paternal grandmother, Cynthia Huggins. Her grandfather was a policeman in the Mingo mill.
The family moved to McLister Avenue in Mingo.
Ota liked Mingo and the Serbian girls she befriended. Dancing was the big pastime of the day.
She generated income cleaning houses for people. "I was always good to work. I wasn't a lazy person," she said.
She was introduced to her future husband, Louis Tarr McCullough, by her aunt at "a beer joint down on South Third Street," she said.
"Young people would get in there, and they'd play the guitar, and we'd dance so my aunt and me went in there one night, and she knew this boy, so, I didn't know him, and I wasn't interested in nobody, so I just danced and went home.
"I was working at that time, doing housework.
"Anyway, she introduced me to this boy, and I said 'I'm glad to meet you, sir,' and that was it.
"Well, later on, during the week some time, the lady that I was working in her home she said, 'Ota,' she said, 'there's some guy out here in a car wants to talk to you,' and I thought, well, who wants to talk to me, you know, and I went out, and there was Louie, so we set there in the car and talked a little while, and he said, 'Well, I'm interested in you, to know ya'.' He said how about us going to a show on a Saturday night, so we goes to the show."
The courtship led to marriage on Christmas Eve 1935. The couple lived for two years in Georges Run, then moved to Wintersville. Louie, who worked at Weirton Steel, served in the Navy for four years during World War II. Ota worked at Weirton Steel for two years herself during WWII. "I worked in the sheet mill," she said.
Ota resumed cleaning houses afterwards.
When her husband returned home from the service, they got interested in beagles and beagling and were among the early starters of the Steubenville Beagle Club. She remains a life member of that as well as the Willowbrooke Beagle Club and Fort Steuben Kennel Club.
Through the years the two had 18 field champions and more than a thousand trophies from competitions. The McCulloughs also operated McCullough's Kennels until Louie's death in 1996.
The couple had no children but her local family includes a niece, Mentha Moore of Steubenville. She did some traveling after her husband's death, making a point to go to the Panama Canal where her husband had been during his service in the Navy.
Ota is especially fond of a beagle jacket she has, a gold coat naming all her beagle winners, and fond, too, of the memory of her beagle Lady that she had for 15 years.
Ota wants the coat and Lady's ashes with her in her casket, something she makes no bones about saying.
Attending church is important to Ota.
"I know God has given me the strength to do whatever he tells me, you get up and go in my house of worship," she said.
Ota drove a car until she was approaching 101. Her decision to stop came after she had returned home from a routine get-together for coffee and doughnuts with "10 or 12 old-timers."
"After I left there I went down and got in the car, I came home. I didn't have one bit of trouble. I put the car in the garage, and I went like this, (she taps a forefinger on her temple) Ottie, you ain't gonna' drive no more. Anybody a hundred years old ain't got no business out on the road. I said I ain't gonna' drive no more," she said.
The advent of a presidential election year means little to Ota, who has never voted in her life.
"I never voted because I think that's silly," she said, recalling how her husband had predicted that an African-American would be elected president one day.
"How right he was," she said.
On turning 106, Ota said, "I can't believe it. When I think that I can put my feet off that bed on the floor, I can dress myself, and I can walk out here, I don't believe it, but it's true."
Ota claims to have no secret to her longevity, although she comes from good genes, a family with its share of centenarians.
"The Lord is just keeping me, that's all," she said. "I've had a nice life, and I'm happy."
Her celebration plans will be one of her favorites - ribs at Dee Jays.
And maybe even a pina coloda.