Fred Brown turned 100 years old last month. Two days before, he returned to his Sunday school class at Philadelphia Presbyterian Church in Mint Hill, as he had promised, to teach one last lesson to celebrate his birthday.
He says everyone in the 50-plus member Fred Brown Class was so excited about their namesake returning that he didn't get much teaching accomplished.
"There was so much excitement that I never got on my lesson. But that's OK, because I didn't know what the lesson was, I didn't have a quarterly. But that's not the first time that's happened," Brown said.
Brown has had plenty of experience at winging it. He estimates he's taught about 3,000 Sunday school lessons in his lifetime, and he can teach on just about any topic in his favorite book - the Bible. A self-taught Bible scholar, he still enjoys researching the Bible and quizzing others on little-known facts.
Brown, who lives at Wilora Lake Lodge, was born and raised in Huntersville and graduated from Huntersville High School in the 1920s. At the height of the Depression there wasn't enough money to go to college, so he took a business course and then got hands-on training at a dairy farm, which allowed him to make a comfortable living.
"I leaned all the skills I needed by doing. I got my electrical license, and I got my plumbing license and I could build anything I wanted to," Brown said. When he and Martha, his wife of 73 years who also lives at Wilora Lake, moved to Mint Hill in 1938, they joined Philadelphia Presbyterian Church. He started teaching the children's class.
A few years later, when soldiers started returning from World War II, he was given a different assignment.
"The preacher met me one Sunday morning and said, 'I've got a job for you.' I told him I already had a job, but that didn't matter," Brown said. "He wanted me to start a class for returning veterans. They were too young to go in the old man and woman's classes, and too old for the kids. So I started the new class, and we grew so fast we moved all over the church to find space. At one time we had 130 members."
Over the years, Brown has chaired almost every committee in the church except Moderator of the Presbyterian Women. He served as Clerk of Session and was chairman of the building committee when the new sanctuary was planned and built in the 1970s.
He also has been active in the community. Brown is one of two surviving founding members of the Mint Hill Fire Department. He also helped organize four new Masonic Lodges in Mecklenburg County.
In 2001, Brown was presented the Bain Cane, a walking stick with a gold-plated handle passed on to the oldest male member of Philadelphia Presbyterian since it was willed to the church upon John Bain's death in 1897.
As the 25th person to carry the cane, Brown has taken care of it for 10 years, and plans to tend it a while longer.
He recently was named an Outstanding Older Adult by the Presbytery of Charlotte and honored with a special resolution by the session of Philadelphia.
When asked about the secret to longevity, Brown says it depends on who is asking.
"People always want to know how to live to be 100. If they are already 99 years old, I tell them to start being real careful," said Brown. "If they are younger, I tell them no tobacco, no alcohol, clean living, and be sure to keep your faith."