People to Watch

Elsie at 101 Years Old

Anderson’s Elsie Turner Holcombe turned 101 on Friday, June 23rd. Her father and mother had met and married while he was serving our country in Germany during WWI. When his tour of duty ended, the couple entered America in New York City and began their lives together there.

Holcombe was born in Yonkers, NY in 1922; her sister, Jesse, two years later. Their parents’ marriage soon ended there, and her mother took both daughters and moved to nearby White Plains. Holcombe’s writing journey began there when she entered grammar school. The body of a hanged man had recently been discovered in the basement of their apartment building. Holcombe wrote a mystery for a contest: “Was it Suicide?” In her story the hanging turned out to be a murder instead of suicide. She won first place. More importantly, it sparked her curiosity about the world and ignited a lifelong passion for reading and writing.

Holcombe’s father had a brother who lived in Anderson and had several businesses, including a tour bus line that served Washington, D.C. and New York City. He offered to bring Elsie, Jesse, and their mother to Anderson to live. Her mother accepted. They packed their belongings and arrived here in the summer of 1935.

She described the Anderson they found during this time between the women’s suffrage movement and the winding down of Prohibition and The Great Depression, “The girls and boys here went to different schools. High school had only eleven grades. Businesses, churches, and schools were segregated. The schools here were very good, and I was able to develop my reading and writing skills. Mother, a gifted seamstress, found work making and repairing clothes.”

In 1940, Holcombe met and soon married Ralph Holcombe, who owned a local building business. “It was truly love at first sight,” she said during one of her characteristic laughs. “He built us and my mother new homes on adjacent properties on Pope Drive, which was the edge of North Anderson at the time.” the same home she lives in still to this day.

Holcombe continues “My neighbors all had goats and gardens. We immediately began filling our new home with children – seven in all. Over my adult years, we raised and provided college educations for all seven. Ralph built houses, and I opened a dance and gymnastics studio for young girls in our carriage house and later bought and managed a bookstore, The Pen Shop. For my last job, I designed and provided cost estimates of construction projects for Lowes until retirement, after working there for seventeen years. That was long enough to get our seventh through college. Then I started taking some writing courses at (then) Anderson College, Tri-County Tech, and Clemson University.”

It wasn’t all work for Ralph and Elsie. He was an avid sportsman, and Elsie often went with him on hunting and camping trips. She sat on deer stands, fished, then cleaned and cooked the fish and game. And she taught Sunday School.

Elsie joined the Foothills Writers Guild in 1995, twenty-eight years ago. Since joining the guild, she has won 24 guild writing contests and several in the Poetry Society of South Carolina. She published three collections of her poems for her growing family. Then, at age 98, she published a novel, It Happened in a Parish, a delightful story set in “Anderton,” South Carolina. The street names all sound very familiar.

So, how does this spry, energetic, friend-rich writer feel about turning 101? “I’m happy about it. You know, Mama only lived to be 100.”

She quickly and graciously consented to share her “3 Secrets” for a long, happy, life:

  1. Be honest (you’ll sleep better)
  2. Have many interests (you’ll be more interesting)
  3. Stay healthy (keep busy & eat good southern cooking)

Elsie did not mention the one “secret” that, I believe, is why she is so beloved by all who know her: she freely tells everyone that she loves them. And she means it. She’s seen a lot of changes in the world in 101 years. My sense is that she’s been a positive force in the changes.

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