WALKER — Robert R. “Rudy” Stafford made a grand entrance to his surprise birthday party Saturday when he drove himself and his son Charles Stafford in a golf cart to his family’s old home site.
“Once I get over the shock (of the surprise), I’ll feel fine,” Rudy Stafford said about his party, though his 98th birthday is actually Nov. 8.
Family and friends including some from out of town helped to celebrate his milestone.
“He used to be my father’s boss,” Maurice “Butch” Robin said. “It’s really, really good to see everyone.”
More than two dozen family members and friends arrived at the Staffords’ ancestral home off of La. 449, where a log cabin, built in the 1880s and refurbished with help from the Rural Life Museum in Baton Rouge, still stands. Another home, built in the mid-1950s and later damaged by fire, also sits on the property and is used for storage.
For Stafford’s oldest great-granddaughter, Stephanie Kropog, of Hammond, the party was one of celebration and joy.
“It’s so often that we gather for sad events, for funerals,” Kropog said. “It’s just overwhelming to hear family and friends’ laughter.”
Stafford was born Nov. 8, 1916, in Corbin to John Wiley and Birdie Womack Stafford. He was the youngest of 12 children, and his siblings, who are now deceased, included Ernest Stafford, Dewey Stafford, Ogden Stafford, Fuqua Stafford, Parker Stafford, Betty Stafford Weeks, Juanita Stafford Jackson, Ouida Stafford, Kenyon Stafford, Clara Stafford Stewart and Wiley Stafford.
Rudy Stafford married the love of his life, Irene LaRose Stafford, and they were married for 75 years. The couple had five children, all of whom are still alive, Charles Stafford said.
In addition to Charles, the children include Donald Stafford, Kenneth Stafford, Carolyn Stafford Quoyeser and Bob Stafford.
Rudy Stafford talked about their “wonderful childhood.”
“We all went to Corbin School. They call it Walker now,” he said. “We had a swimming hole that I liked a lot. It was a creek in the back of the home.”
Rudy Stafford said he remembers bringing watermelons to the creek.
“They would float when we put them in the creek, and they’d cool off,” he said.
Born decades before video games and computers were invented, Stafford said he and his friends spent much of their time outdoors.
“We liked to go out in the woods, especially during muscadine season,” he said.
He would advise youths today to spend more time outdoors and “be sure they don’t go out there and do a lot of drinking.”
Rudy Stafford attended Walker High School until the 11th grade, the highest grade offered at the time, he said. He then went to work for Amoco for 46 years before retiring. He rebuilt his childhood home, located just about a half-mile from his ancestors’ log cabin, after the fire, and constructed a family cemetery nearby, which he still tends to today.
Charles Stafford said his father would get up early in the morning to milk the cows before going to work. When he returned home, he tended to his garden.
“Work never kills anyone,” Charles Stafford said.
Rudy Stafford is a vegetarian who grew up on a farm and was raised on homegrown vegetables. He said the secret to his longevity is simple, and recommends that people who want to live a long, healthy life exercise, don’t drink heavily and eat properly, though he credits family genes for most of his 98 happy years.
In fact, his grandfather, Steve Stafford, lived to be 96, and his oldest sister, Juanita Jackson, lived to be just two weeks shy of 100th.
“I’m trying to beat her but I don’t know if I will,” he said, laughing. “Anytime you can live to be 100, you’re doing pretty good.”
Rudy Stafford’s brother, Dewey Stafford, also lived to be 98 years old, he said.
“Longevity is kind of ingrained in the family, fortunately,” Rudy Stafford said.
The 98-year-old has seen an abundance of changes during his lifetime, including houses getting electricity.
“When I came up as a boy, I didn’t have electricity,” he said, but the family was the first on the block to have lights, with gas lights first, followed by electric lights.
“Back then, we didn’t have as much,” he said.
Technology has been “a great invention. It’s made life a whole lot better,” he said.
Despite his age, Stafford still cuts grass, tends to his cemetery and to orchards of grapefruits and kumquats.
“I used to have figs, but they’re gone for now,” he said.
In addition to five children, Rudy Stafford’s grandchildren include the late Yvette Stafford Garris, John Stafford, Stephanie Stafford Kropog, Monique Stafford Sceroler, Stephen Stafford, Angela Quoyeser Rothermel, Ashley Stafford Burdell, Benjamin Stafford, Brandon Stafford, Brady Stafford, Jessica Stafford Feldtman and Allison Stafford. He also has 10 great-grandchildren, Charles Stafford said.
Rudy Stafford said his goal is to live to 100.
“We’ll just have to wait and see,” he said smiling. “I’m going to try and hang in there.”