Former schoolteacher celebrates 99th birthday

Thelma Range makes a dramatic entrance to her birthday party on Sunday in a glamorous white gown. – Photo: Jewel Levy

Retired schoolteacher Thelma Range celebrated her 99th birthday early on Sunday surrounded by family, friends and former students.

The only thing missing from her birthday party was a pack of dominoes, said the jolly senior whom everyone calls ‘Aunt Tel’.

Many past students she had taught in North Side and West Bay stopped in to wish her happy birthday in a celebration that featured a Cayman-style buffet with heavy cake, and music by Calypso Cowboy Dexter Bodden.

The celebrations, two days ahead of her actual birthday, took place at a residence in Cayman Kai in North Side.

Range dressed to impress. Gold earrings dangled from her lobes and a string of pearls highlighted the neckline of her white, sleeveless gown. Gold shoes and a tiara on top of her head, amid blonde curls, completed the look as she made her way to the party.

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Born on 3 Sept. 1920 in Panama, Range moved to Jamaica with her parents Eugenia and Hubert Edwards. She had one brother, Milton.

She said she moved to Cayman from Jamaica on a government school contract, and taught all subjects to standard six students in North Side and West Bay in the late 1940s and ‘50s. She was also principal at both schools.

She has fond memories of the students who passed through her classrooms, saying they were “little darlings”.

In 1955, she married her North Side sweetheart, Wilbur ‘Pummy’ Range, in Jamaica.

The couple had three children, Karen, Paula and Wilberlee. In later years, the family moved to the United States, where she continued her teaching and resides today. Some of her children remain in Cayman.

“She was strict, that’s what I know,” said former student Carolyn Ann Ebanks, who attended school in the West Bay Town Hall. “She would give us the strap. Maybe that’s why we made something of ourselves,” she added with a laugh.

Leonard Ebanks, another past student, added, “She wasn’t sparing the rod to spoil no child.”

“She made me give up my nurse bottle for fear of her telling the class,” another student recalled.

“She could drive that old Studebaker car,” Carolyn Ann Ebanks said. “When she floored that and took off with the bunch of us students to not miss the Jamaica exams being held at the George Town Annex, it was a laugh.”

McCanna Anderson, 83, knew Range very well. She taught her at age 13 and they have kept in touch over the years.

Range still drives, and recently got her licence renewed in Palm Bay, Florida, where she now lives.

To keep active, she visits the Salvation Army where she volunteered her services many years ago. She also attends Bible study.

She loves food, especially carrot cake, but she said she has to be careful now about what she eats.

“I could eat anything before, but things like lobster, crab and most shell foods, I stay away from [now],” she said.

“I don’t need no glasses. Sometimes I use them for reading, but not all the time,” she said.

She also loves to dance and she plays the organ.

Her favourite book, she said, is the Bible, and some mystery stories too. She also loves Christian TBN television and Joel Osteen.

She said she cannot wait to get back to her domino playing.

“You can’t do without dominoes. It’s funny and nice hearing the people playing – bam, bam, bam … I don’t slam them too hard,” she said.

At her party on Sunday, her grandson Christopher King welcomed everyone, including all the family that had travelled from the US. He said Range nurtured a wonderful family in New York and spent her golden years in Florida. As she taught so many students here, her family wanted to be able to share the celebration of her birthday with those in Cayman.

To have a long life, her advice is to serve the Lord, and at age 99, she says she just wants to keep on serving Jesus.

She tells of a moment when she once saw an angel, who had a secret to impart.

“In New York, I saw an angel sitting on a bench as I was heading to Empire Boulevard. He told me how long I would live. I never told anyone,” she said.

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