A dozen or so people took to the pulpit or an adjacent podium to speak about Vivian Rose Duncan’s 100 years of life April 19 at Kannapolis’ Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.
They all described her a woman of God, a career educator, and a dedicated aunt to five generations of nieces and nephews.
With the honoree sitting at the front of the church, Alice Steele Robinson, the president of Bethel’s missionary society, may have best summarized Duncan’s thoughts of the day when she commented that Duncan would admonish her if she spoke for too long.
But none of the speakers were short on words as about 150 relatives, friends, neighbors and fellow church members celebrated Duncan’s century of life with a church service and a dinner afterward.
On April 20, Duncan became a second-generation centenarian. The daughter of James B. and Fannie Phifer Rose, Duncan has nearly equaled the life longevity of her mother who passed away in 1978 at the age of 101.
“We’re here because of 100 years of blessings,” said Rosena Johnson in her Welcome and Occasion address. “And that 100 years of blessings has a name, Vivian Rose Duncan. We want to say ‘Thank you. Thank God for you. And God bless you.’”
Until recently, Duncan was a lifelong resident of Kannapolis. In recent years, she has lived under the care of her nieces and nephews including nephew Tola Rose and his wife Lillina. She lives in Brian Center Nursing and Rehabilitation in Concord.
Duncan was born in Kannapolis in 1915, less than three months after Alexander Graham Bell made the first transcontinental telephone call. She had four siblings, all whom are deceased. In 1943, she married Frederick Duncan of Salisbury.
Duncan received her bachelor’s degree from Livingstone College three years later and her Masters in Education from the University of Indiana the year after that. In 1947, Duncan began teaching at Mooresville’s Dunbar Elementary where she remained until retiring in 1978.
“She has been teaching us things for a long time,” said the Rev. Robert C. Moore, a former pastor at Bethel AME Zion Church who delivered the homily at Duncan’s birthday service. “We all became her students.
“We can’t say she used to be a teacher; she is a teacher right now. I bet over at the Brian Center she’s teaching classes and they don’t even know it.”
A lifelong member of Bethel AME Zion Church, Duncan’s mother laid the first brick when the church was built in 1955. As the church’s oldest living member, Duncan has the venerable title of Mother of the Church.
Duncan has served in church leadership positions including secretary of the quarterly conference for 50 years, director of the adult Christian education department and secretary of the trustee board.
Although no longer mobile enough to attend Sunday services at Bethel, she arrived at the church for her birthday service in style. The nearby Clark Funeral Home sent for her in its newest and finest white limousine.
Decked out in a white dress and white shawl and dignified with an honorary tiara and pink sash, Duncan was escorted to the front of the sanctuary by her nephews Tola Rose and Joe Mingo Jr.
As part of the ceremony, Duncan was presented with proclamations by Kannapolis Mayor Darrell Hinnant, N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory and President Barack Obama. The proclamation from the White House read, “We’re grateful for your contribution to the American story. Congratulations, Barack and Michelle Obama.”
The Johnson Family performed, including father and daughter Manly “Bud” Johnson and Sandra Johnson, both Bethel members. They dedicated the hymn “What if God is Unhappy with Our Praise” to Duncan.
In closing, Duncan spoke the final words:
“I want to say thank you all. How grateful I am. I thank God, I thank God. My family is so good. Everybody is somebody. If you trust in God, he will bring you through. I know he will.
“I appreciate everyone who is here. I could go on and on but I know you want to go. Time is running out. Let’s go home. I think that’s all I have to say. I give God the praise.”
Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at email@example.com.