Betty Sue Mitchell
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100 years and still cookin’

Thursday, March 1, 2007 6:16 PM CST
Betty Sue Mitchell of Kensett reflects on a century of service

By Warren Watkins
The Daily Citizen

KENSETT — Sitting on the front porch of her home, her daffodils waving in the humid winter wind, Betty Sue Mitchell has time to reflect on the victories of her life.

“You can tell I love flowers ‘cause I’ve got ‘em everywhere,” Mitchell said. “Ain’t they pretty?”

Mitchell lives on Martin Luther King Drive in Kensett in a home she had built.

“I didn’t know I’d get this age,” Mitchell said Wednesday, the day of her 100th birthday.

Exactly where she was born no one knows, but she has narrowed it down to somewhere between West Point and Des Arc in White County.

Her father, Joe Jones, was a vegetable farmer who raised corn, watermelon and many other things. Her mother was Dicey Jones. Her husband, Elbert, worked for the Union Pacific Railroad, and she still gets an acknowledgment from the Railroad Retirement Board on her birthday.

“I wanted six kids, three boys and three girls, but I just got one,” Mitchell said. “He was born in the Union Pacific Hospital in Little Rock.”

Franklin Mitchell, her son, is 83 and lives in California. She has one sister living, Bessie, who is in her late 80’s and lives in Cotton Plant. Bessie is the mother of Rodney Slater, who served President Bill Clinton as U.S. Secretary of Transportation. Franklin has four boys and two girls.

“I worked hard to graduate my son,” Mitchell said. “He went up into the Navy and went up under that water. He went in the submarine part.”

“I’ve been to the White House,” she said. “It’s nice.”

While there, she had her picture taken with Vice President Al Gore.

Mitchell’s life work was as a cook, both in private homes and restaurants.

“I worked all over West Point, Searcy, Kensett and everywhere,” she said. “I did a lot of cookin’.”

As the cook at the Roseanne Motel and the hotel in Kensett, she served lots of railroad workers, some of whom boarded with the Mitchell family. One man requested her chicken and dumplins so often his coworkers nicknamed him, “the dumplin man.”

“I cooked ‘em in a big ol’ pot,” she said.

The Mills family of Kensett employed Mitchell.

“She was quite a character, always full of fun,” White County Circuit Judge Bill Mills said, recalling her culinary skills. “She cooked good ol’ Southern cookin’ — mashed taters and greens. She seasoned all the vegetables up.”

Mitchell remembers the Mills family well.

“I’ve been clean to Memphis with ‘em,” she said, referring to a time when Mills had just gotten out of the service and hired her to cook when he had two toddlers, now in their 30’s.

Another specialty was desserts, including all kinds of cakes and pies.

“I even made my own donuts,” she said.

Over the years, she took care of her blind sister and her father, often working two or three jobs at a time.

“I worked for everybody I could work for,” she said.

A few years ago her doctor told her to retire, and her arthritis is a daily reminder of the heavy lifting she performed in jobs past.

“Smelling the food made me fat,” Mitchell said. “I used to be fat.”

After retirement, she lost 100 pounds, and now her five-foot frame is tiny.

Some memories are hard to retrieve after ten decades, she said.

“At 100 years of age, it’s hard to think,” Mitchell said. “It takes a lot of energy out of your body, but I lay down and pray.”

Mitchell is a lifelong member of Centennial Baptist Church, and her motto is well known by those who know her.

“I love everybody in the whole world ‘round,” is a phrase she repeats often, and she says it again from the porch.

After a moment of reflection with the daffodils, she added a qualifier.

“I had to, to get to a hundred.”

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