South Charlotte

Hard work, education and faith got her to 104

The year was 1908. William H. Taft was president, 14 percent of homes had bathtubs, 8 percent had telephones, the average life expectancy was 47 years, 6 percent of all Americans graduated from high school and two of every 10 adults could not read or write.

Alberta McCarthy Adams' life spans 104 years that have seen dramatic changes. She was born Feb, 2, 1908, in Kings Mountain.

Raised along with her two brothers on a 100-acre farm by their maternal grandparents, George and Sophronia Patterson, Adams learned early the value of hard work. The children rose every morning at 4:30 to work in the fields.

"Mother's lifelong love and expertise of gardening was a result of her years spent working on that farm. She's always attributed her longevity and good health to hard work," said Lorraine Orr, 74, Adam's oldest daughter.

"It was fun exploring on the farm, too," said Adams.

George Patterson was born in Grover, N.C. He worked with his family as slaves in Iredell County until the Emancipation Proclamation was signed Jan. 1, 1863. Patterson was 8 years old.

Though he couldn't read or write, he was able to purchase a farm, eventually totaling 100 acres, after many years of hard work and saving. Patterson also was a trustee in his church.

He later lost the farm during the depression. He lived to be 101 years old.

One of Patterson's children, Amanda McCarthy, left her three young children with the Pattersons while she went off to find work. She got a job as a housekeeper in Florida, and later, Maryland.

McCarthy sent money home every month for the care of her children. Like her father, McCarthy knew the value of education, and she worked so her children could attend school. Lincoln Academy Boarding School for African-American girls was opened in Kings Mountain by Emily Catherine Prudden in 1886. The Christian school taught reading, writing and arithmetic, as well as proper etiquette and sewing and cooking.

The American Missionary Association took over the school two years later. The school at the foot of Crowder's Mountain was absorbed by the Gaston County school system in 1955.

The remains of the original building still stand, and reunions have been celebrated over the years. Adams attended the academy until she graduated in 1925. By then her mother was living and working in Maryland. Adams moved near her mother to attend Morgan College - now Morgan State University - in Baltimore, majoring in education.

She became acquainted with Leon Lovejoy Adams Sr. while there, and the two were married in June 1933. They returned to Kings Mountain, where Leon became principal of Compact High School. The couple raised four girls and two boys. Adams sewed the children's clothes, cooked, baked and took care of the garden.

They lived on the family farm until Orr was 8, then moved a quarter-mile away.

"We went to school in a split session, based on the farm's needs, and my mother was the disciplinarian," said Orr.

The Adamses instilled in their children the value of hard work, education, faith and a strong moral compass.

"It was, 'Where are you going to go to college,' not 'if,' " Orr said. "My sisters and I were to be educated, too, and learn to drive."

The six Adams children graduated from college. Leon L. Adams Jr. became director of federal funds for the Little Rock, Ark., School System. Lorraine Adams Orr got her master's degree and was a teacher and reading specialist for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. Alberta Adams Parker became a registered nurse, and Betty Adams Simpson a chemist. Lt. Col. Thomas Richard Adams is retired from the Air Force, and Yvonne Adams Miller worked as an accountant.

Alberta and Leon were married 62 years; Leon died in 1989.

"Mother came to live with me and my husband, Aaron, when she was 87," said Orr, who lives in Charlotte. "An independent woman, mother wanted her 'own kitchen.' "

The Orrs turned their downstairs into an apartment for Adams, complete with her own kitchen. Adams remained self-sufficient until age 95, when she moved upstairs.

"Mother's garden at her King's Mountain home was unbelievable," Aaron Orr said. "When she moved in with us, I tilled up an area for her to plant. Her flowers were always the envy of the neighborhood."

From 95 to 100, Adams went to Loving Touch Adult Day Center for a few hours each day. She enjoyed the socialization. When she returned home, she went right to work in her garden.

"We had a huge birthday party for mother when she turned 99," Lorraine said. "Something in me told me not to wait for her 100th, and I'm glad we did it that way."

Adams started to slow at 100, when she had to have emergency gall bladder surgery.

"We have two wonderful care givers who come to the house to help us with mother now. Mother eats whatever she wants and is on no daily medication except for eye drops for glaucoma," Orr said. "She's amazing."

The Orr's hosted a 104th birthday party for Adams in February.

Adams also has one great-great grandchild.

"Mother was such a good baker," Aaron said. "Her sticky pies and bread pudding were the best."