During her 108 years of living, Avicia Hooper Thorpe of Danville has touched the lives of young people around the world.
She was born April 16, 1908, to Rev. Reuben and Mrs. Priscilla Hooper of the Schoolfield community.
Members of the community celebrated her life Friday at a birthday party in her honor at Stratford Rehabilitation in Danville.
Gifts, flowers, and cards lined the walls of her room. She said they came from former students and her “adopted” children who live all over the world.
Thorpe and her husband, the Rev. C.M. Thorpe, never had children of their own. Her husband was pastor of Trinity Church on South Main Street for 29 years and was also an educator, who taught at Pittsylvania County Training School in Gretna. He died in 1963.
“It has come to me recently that God has given me too many lives for me to touch to be tied down to a home and raising children,” she said. “That was the place God had for me from the beginning. God just opened the way. He had other lives for me to touch.”
Thorpe has been to all six continents and some Caribbean and Pacific islands.
One time, she spent two or three days in Africa, and while there, two schoolboys adopted her as their American mother.
“My family began increasing after my husband died, but I better explain that,” she said. “The first year he died I became a godmother. Then I had a spiritual son, Rev. Johnny Anderson.”
Her first “adopted” daughter, Virginia Motley of Danville, was at Stratford Rehabilitation Friday, helping Thorpe get ready for the celebration.
“She is an awesome individual – an inspiration to me. She has always talked positively any time I would go to talk to her, I would always come away inspired.
Motley, who is an ordained minister and will graduate in May with a doctorate from seminary, said, “She never has a harmful thing to say. She is my hero.”
When Thorpe graduated from high school, she interested in three possible careers – nursing, because she had two older sisters who had trained as nurses, business, and teaching.
However, she was not old enough to go to nursing school, since she wasn’t 18. “And there wasn’t anything else in Danville open to us, since that was before integration,” she said.
So instead, Thorpe enrolled at Bluefield State College in Bluefield, W.Va., graduating as salutatorian with a bachelor’s degree in social sciences.
She also completed coursework at Michigan State College in Lansing, Mich., Columbia University in New York, N.Y., and Virginia State University in Petersburg.
She began teaching English at Westmoreland High School in 1933 and then moved to the new John M. Langston High School when it opened in 1936. She taught for 33 years, before retiring in 1966. Her first year teaching at Langston, she made $54 a month. Her salary at the time of her retirement was $5,500 a year. She retired on $100 a month.
While at Langston, Thorpe founded and sponsored the “Langstonian,” the school newspaper. She also organized a chapter of the Future Teachers of America, worked with the Honor Society, the Language Arts Club, the Debating Club, the Junior Red Cross, the Courtesy and Discipline Committee, and many others.
One of her hobbies is writing poetry. She has a one-inch binder that contains over 60 poems she has written. She can still recite many of them from memory. One of her favorites is a poem she wrote on her 93rd birthday.
She said the first poem she wrote was about a smile.
“It had such a positive effect on their lives (the students). I thought this is a gift to give to others,” she said.
She said her former students say that she still has that smile.
Her book of poems has never been published, but she enjoys giving copies of her poems as gifts.
“I thought about getting it printed, but it’s one of things I didn’t get done,” she said.
Thorpe is a diamond member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, a member of the Order of the Eastern Star, a member of Church Women United, and a lifetime member of the NAACP.
“She has always been a role model and a mentor for our entire sorority,” said Alpah Kappa Alpha sister Cynthia Polk of Danville. “She was born the year our sorority was founded.”
Thorpe credits God for her longevity.
“I took the best possible care of myself all along, and the rest was in God’s hands. He had places for me to go and things for me to do,” she said. “I would suggest to anybody who doesn’t know him that they should become acquainted with him. I have been wonderfully blessed.”