Stella Welcome recently joined a distinguished group, celebrating her 100th birthday on Oct. 30. The next day surrounded by family, friends, dignitaries and other well-wishers, the native East Ender and the district’s oldest resident was showered with birthday wishes, kisses and gifts at a grand party thrown in her honor. Acting Governor Franz Manderson, Premier Alden McLaughlin, Cabinet Minister Osbourne Bodden, East End MLA Arden McLean and more than 200 family members and friends joined in to mark the special occasion.
At the celebration at the East End Civic Centre, Ms. Welcome also received national recognition for her humanitarian work of delivering meals on foot to people in need throughout Grand Cayman.
Speaking from home a few days before her birthday, Ms. Welcome shared some recollections about her life.
“I can’t tell you my secret for a long life because I don’t have any – all I know is when I was younger I looked forward to the days I could move about the community, visiting friends, cooking and sharing what I had with others,” Ms. Welcome said.
“Times were hard, life was rough, but thank God, I made it. God is not finished with me yet because I’m still alive and kicking,” she added.
Born in 1915 as Stella Wood, Ms. Welcome has longevity in her family; her mother Genatta lived to 103.
At home, Ms. Welcome did not twist thatch rope like many of her neighbors. Instead she made sure everyone was well fed, the yard swept and covered with white sand, and a slice of bread or heavy cake was in the cupboard. Like many others in the community, she was raised on provisions such as cassava, pumpkin and sweet potatoes.
“Flour dumplings and fish cooked in coconut milk was a dish everyone enjoyed – it was many years before we could buy things like chicken and grapes from the shops,” she said. Her daughter, Janet, said her mother worked hard throughout her life, taking care of the family and helping others in the community.
Ms. Welcome’s first paying job was caring for the blind mother of Olive Hinds, housekeeper at Lambert House, now known as the Grand Old House. In later years, she worked as a housekeeper for the Ryan family; for Bodden Town Primary School teacher Hillary Ebanks as a domestic helper at her home and at the school; and also at Bob Soto’s Cayman Dive Lodge.
Ms. Welcome married the late Barrett Welcome in 1956. A seaman with National Bulk Carriers for 12 years, he gave up sea life due to ill health but remained active when he returned to Cayman, working as a dentist, doctor, fisherman and farmer in the district, Ms. Welcome recalled. He passed away in 1984. The couple had two daughters – Janet and Nadine.
“I have seen many things come to pass in my lifetime,” said Ms. Welcome. “I can recall the first murder. This was a fisherman named Milburn McLean who disappeared and was never seen again. His skeleton was later found in the vicinity of what is now Morritt’s Tortuga Club,” she said.
She also remembered the mosquitoes: “You had to carry a smoke pan with you all the time. They would also suffocate the cattle by clogging up their nose and mouth.”
“Electricity was a novelty when it came to East End in 1971,” she said. Ms. Welcome recalled her mother asking her Aunt Valentine to take her outside to see the lights. It made quite an impression as her mother told her aunt that when she got to heaven she was going to tell her friends and family she was smarter than them because she lived to see electricity come to East End.
A member of the Presbyterian United Church, Ms. Welcome was a junior and senior president of Christian Endeavour, president of the Women’s Guild and an elder of the church. She also sang in the choir.
Today, Ms. Welcome is living comfortably in her house just west of central East End where she was born.
Pausing over a Christian devotional book at a table in her bedroom, Ms. Welcome explained how she did her best to keep in touch with her neighbors.
“I have lots of friends in Bodden Town, but we don’t get to see each other much these days,” she said. She used to make the trip on foot to visit friends and family, though now she finds time to chat with them on the phone.
“I love my district and would not leave it to live any place else in the world,” she said.
Between her two daughters, Ms. Welcome has 11 grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and 17 great-great-grandchildren, and says she thanks God for giving her such a long life.
Recognized in the community for her generosity and commitment to her church, Ms. Welcome shared some reflections with the Compass.