Resident Celebrates Century

Feb. 15 was declared Oneda Dixon Day here
Oneda Dixon got best wishes from Supervisor Larry Cantwell, left, Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr., right, and town board members Fred Overton, Kathee Burke-Gonzalez, and Peter Van Scoyoc. Durell Godfrey

       To get an idea of how much Oneda Dixon of East Hampton, who turned 100 on Saturday, has witnessed in her lifetime, consider what was happening in 1914. That was the year the Panama Canal was opened and the year World War I began. The air-conditioner was patented in 1914, and the first commercial airline was established. Ford’s Model T was the most popular car in America, but “when she was growing up there were horses and buggies,” her daughter Jacquolen Glover said Tuesday.

       This has been a week of parties for Mrs. Dixon, and given the momentous occasion, there are probably a few more celebrations to come.

       On Friday, she was celebrated in grand style during a Valentine’s Day lunch at the East Hampton Town Senior Citizens Center, where she is a regular. Then on Saturday, a crowd of about 50 friends and family members gathered for another party at the Springs Presbyterian Church, though some who were expected to attend had to cancel their plans because of the snow.

       At Friday’s party, with a daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter on hand, as was the entire East Hampton Town Board and the mayor of East Hampton Village, Mrs. Dixon was called to the front of the room, given a seat of honor and a tiara, and presented with a huge birthday cake. As an overflow crowd sang “Happy Birthday,” Mrs. Dixon joined in, then blew out her candles.

       “I thank everybody for being here and I thank you for helping me to enjoy my day,” she said. “Everybody here has been so wonderful for me. They all treat me like a baby. . . . I love all of you to the bones. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to eat my cheese sandwich.”

       But it would be a while before she got back to her lunch. Supervisor Larry Cantwell and Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. each presented birthday proclamations,  a friend gave a short speech, and another read a poem he had written.

       Mr. Cantwell had been a neighbor of Mrs. Dixon’s and had fond recollections of her and her late husband, Ollie, from years ago. “It’s really a pleasure for me to be here, and at 63, I guess I’ve got 37 years to go,” he said.

       “This is one of those humbling experiences you get to enjoy when you’re an elected official,” Mayor Rickenbach said. “You epitomize what our community is all about.” He declared Feb. 15 Oneda Dixon Day in East Hampton Village.

       “I call her Mother Dixon,” said Connie Jones, a friend. “When you stop and think about the wealth of information that this woman has, it’s incredible.” In her 100 years, Ms. Jones said, Mrs. Dixon has seen things progress “from horses to trains to cars and planes.”

       “She believed in a better way and a better day,” Ms. Jones said, and then to Mrs. Dixon she added, “You have been a beacon of light in this community, not only for me and my brothers and sisters but for many others.”

       Ms. Glover, one of Mrs. Dixon’s six children but the only one who survives, said her mother had been “an example for our family and my sisters and brothers that have passed on before you, and your granddaughter.”

       Mrs. Dixon was born Oneda Turner in Mooresville, N.C., one of eight children. She moved to Washington, D.C., after high school and met her future husband there, according to the proclamation from the town. The two worked on alternate schedules “so their children always had a parent caring for them.” Four of the children grew up in the Washington area. The youngest of the six  finished school in East Hampton, where the family moved in 1963.

       “When we were growing up, we were a church family,” Ms. Glover said. “We were brought up in church.” Mrs. Dixon’s faith has been an important part of her life and she continues to be a member of the Calvary Baptist Church. “She likes to dance and read. She enjoys singing, and she likes to pray,” her daughter said.

       In East Hampton, her husband, who died before her, worked as a chauffeur. She was a housekeeper, finally retiring in 1999, at 85.

       “The families she worked for, they still keep in touch with her. They call, send Christmas cards,” her daughter said.

       Mrs. Dixon has 11 grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren, and 5 great-great-grandchildren.

       “She has seen a lot of things come to pass,” her daughter said on Tuesday. “In her lifetime, she never would have thought we would have a black president, and she has seen that.” Her mother has been lucky in her life, Ms. Glover added,  that “people have shown how much they care for her and how much they appreciate her.”

       On Friday, she said, “she was honored for who she is, for the things that she has done.”