By Morgan Bryce
Associate Editor

The Opelika branch of the Lee-Russell Council of Governments hosted a “Centenarians Unveiling Ceremony” Aug. 15 to honor five residents who have met or exceeded the age of 100 years old.
Local dignitaries were in attendance at the event, including Congressman Mike Rogers, Opelika Ward 5 Councilman David Canon and Loachapoka Mayor Zach Holmes.
Smiths Station resident Ella Frances Cook, 104 years old, was the oldest member of this year’s class. Also in attendance were honorees Arthur Cooper and Thelma Devoise, who each turned 100 years old this year.
Sallie May Haynes, also 100 years old, was honored, but could not attend. Fellow 100-year-old Mary Mercedes Greene passed away earlier this year.
LRCG Area Agency on Aging Director Jackie Pinkard said she organized the event in 2012 as a way of honoring and respecting this unique group of individuals.
“I’ve always worked with the older adult population and noticed that seniors were living longer, and I wanted to find a way to capture their spirit so it can live on forever,” Pinkard said.
Pinkard reached out to Opelika photographer Charlie Jernigan, who volunteered his time to assist with the project. Traveling to meet centenarians across both counties, Jernigan said he takes the time to get to know the individuals as he takes their picture, which lends to both great conversations and stunning pieces of art.
“They’re some of the most pleasant (photography) shooting sessions that I have … they’re full of wit, stories and don’t care what they say about anybody. Usually too they are full of great jokes and senses of humor, making this project a real joy to do,” Jernigan said.
Jernigan added that the pictures are taken free of charge, with copies given to the families, individuals and LRCG for them to use in their exhibit.
Since the program launched in 2012, 33 centenarians have been honored, filling up the walls of the facility’s main hallway.
Those interested in nominating a local centenarian can call Pinkard at 334-528-9212.
For more information or to read more about the LRCG and its programs, visit . The Opelika facility is located at 2207 Gateway Drive.