DENHAM SPRINGS — Nestled among family members — three children, 23 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren — and friends, Arie Murphy, of Denham Springs, a local celebrity of sorts, felt right at home in Spring Park Sunday as she celebrated her 100th birthday.
“I never thought I’d live to be 100,” Murphy said.
“I don’t have a secret,” Murphy said, when asked to reveal her secret to longevity. “I just enjoy every day, and like the things that I do.”
Some of those things include tending to flower beds in her yard and those she planted at Community Christian Academy, located across the street from her home and her beloved park.
“I work in the garden,” Murphy said. “I love to dig in the dirt. I enjoy the freedom to do the things I like.”
Although she is 100, Murphy and family members said, she still prunes several crepe myrtles located in the park, which she planted about 10 years ago.
“She loves this community,” said Denham Springs Mayor Jimmy Durbin, who helped organize Sunday’s celebration.
“Everything you see — the flowers, the crepe myrtles — she planted,” he said. “She is such an inspiration to garden clubs across Louisiana.”
Murphy, who has been a longtime gardener, has won several awards from the local garden club.
Murphy also built fences and painted mail boxes for Cleanest City judging, and was the commissioner in charge of the voters at City Hall until she retired at age 90, her son, Charles “Bo” Murphy said.
“She’s just a wonderful member of our community,” Durbin said. “There is not much she would ask me to do that I wouldn’t do.”
As family members gathered around Murphy throughout the day, wishing her happy birthday, and having their pictures taken with her, Murphy seemed to take it all in with a smile.
“We tried to make her lay down (for a nap before the party), but she was afraid she was going to miss something,” her daughter, Ann Fenn, said.
While Fenn said that her mother has slowed down a bit in the past year, she doesn’t let her age stop her from doing what she loves.
Following a recent surgery during which she had 11 inches of her colon removed, Arie Murphy just “popped right back out of it,” Fenn said.
“It’s unbelievable,” Fenn added. “She wears me out.”
“This is the most independent woman (I’ve met),” said one of Arie Murphy’s daughter-in-laws, Dawn Murphy. “She does not like people doing for her if she can do it herself.”
About seven years ago, Arie Murphy insisted on carrying 40-pound bags of dirt to the car herself instead of agreeing to allow a Walmart employee to help her, Dawn Murphy said.
“She said, ‘that makes my muscles big,’” Dawn Murphy said.
“It’s a milestone,” Bo Murphy said of the occasion. “There’s not many people that make it to 100 years.”
Bo, who turned 71 just a week prior to his mother’s 100th birthday, pointed to painted benches, which his mother build, at the school across the street
“My mother is the type of person that can build anything,” Bo Murphy said.
When Arie Murphy first moved to Denham Springs, Bo Murphy said that she removed all of the wooden boards from the outside of her home, cleaned them, sanded them, repainted them and then replaced them.
She also ran a 220 electrical line for her air conditioner when she was in her 70s as her house was being repaired from a flood, Fenn said.
“She has tools just like a man,” Bo Murphy said, adding that she finished building a bench just last year.
“We’re blessed to have her this long looking over us, and being with us,” her son Frank Murphy said.
Frank Murphy said he attributes his mother’s longevity to “living right, working hard, and eating the right foods.”
“She always said you’ve got to keep working, you’ve got to keep moving,” Frank Murphy said.
“She does crossword puzzles,” Frank Murphy continued. “I think that helped as far as her mental capacity.”
Murphy, a Mississippi native, said she moved to Baton Rouge in 1978, and has spent much of her life in Denham Springs.
A registered nurse and seamstress by trade, her son Frank Murphy said his mother “just loved fishing and the outdoors.
“Hoeing, mowing and sewing is what she liked to do,” Frank Murphy said.
In fact, Arie Murphy fished right up into her late 80s, early 90s, family members said.
“She’s never driven a car but she always had a boat and a motor,” Ann Fenn said.
Arie Murphy still remembers working in the cotton and corn fields as a child in Mississippi.
“I had seven brothers and sisters, and we all worked,” Arie Murphy recalled.
Back then, Arie Murphy said, the family traveled by horse and buggy to the store, a two-day trip.
She also remembers a time when there wasn’t toilet paper, and said the family used “what we could,” including leaves and paper.
Those are just some of the things that have changed over the past 100 years, Arie Murphy said.
The biggest, she said she believes, is people’s attitudes. “They’re more carefree,” Arie Murphy said. “Things are more important to people than they used to be.”
While Murphy said she plans to keep doing the things she loves, she paused when asked what her plans are for the next 100 years.
“Everything,” Arie Murphy said. “I hope I’m able to take care of things in my next hundred.”
Then she smiled and said, “You know, I’m not going to live that long.”
In honor of her work with the community, the city of Denham Springs; the Livingston Council on Aging and Geauxing Green, an organization committed to the “going green” sustainability initiative, presented Arie Murphy with the first Arie Murphy Green Citizen Award. The award will now be presented each year to an environmentally conscious business or individual in Arie Murphy’s honor, organizers said.