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Hilltown Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 23, 2012

Emma Daisy Stevens celebrates the century mark in grand style

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

KNOX — Knox history came to life last weekend as descendents of those who had built up the hamlet gathered from far and wide to celebrate the 100th birthday of Emma Daisy Bunzey Stevens.

She attributes her longevity to her daily breakfast, said her daughter, Dawn Coffey. Every morning, Mrs. Stevens eats a Freihofer doughnut and half of a grapefruit and drinks a cup of coffee.

A tiny woman with bright eyes and a full head of white hair, Mrs. Stevens is proud of working for the Berne-Knox-Westerlo schools — as the attendance supervisor — but the center of her life has always been her own children.

“She still worries about us,” said Mrs. Coffey, and she still lives in the same house in the hamlet where she raised her family.

She described a lively Knox of an earlier era, peopled with members of her family. “My father’s sister ran the gas station. His brother had the oil company. And then there was Clickman Insurance, and my aunt and her husband ran the grocery story in Knox,” said Mrs. Coffey.

Although Mrs. Coffey’s father and his siblings have died, their children and their children’s children came to celebrate Mrs. Stevens’s birthday.

Mrs. Stevens was one of 10 children who raised 10 children of her own. She now has 16 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.

Her parents worked the Ken Rose Farm in Berne, which was owned by Kenneth Rose McAlpin, a New York City doctor who wrote The Stone That Stopped, published in 1938, a novel about a doctor.

Mrs. Stevens attended a one-room schoolhouse in West Berne through the eighth grade and then went to Cobleskill State, where she studied home economics. She is the second oldest living graduate of the school, according to Mrs. Coffey; the oldest alumna is Beatrice Mallery of Sharon Springs, who is 103. They both graduated in 1929.

Mrs. Stevens met Raymond L. Stevens, the man who would become her husband, at a dance in Knox. They were married until his death at the age of 65.

After marrying, Mrs. Stevens set up her household in Knox and has been there for 79 years. Her husband had his own business hauling milk from the Hilltown farms to the dairy.

In addition to caring for her children, Mrs. Stevens cared for others. She worked at the Marcy Nursing Home in East Berne, and retired as the attendance supervisor at Berne-Knox-Westerlo. The centralized district hadn’t existed when she was of school age.

“She was tough and independent,” said Mrs. Coffey of her mother. “She had to be. But she was also caring and nurturing. She was always nursing people.

“Mother never drank, she never smoked, and she never took a prescription drug,” said Mrs. Coffey.

Her mother is still in good health, she said.

Being part of a big family, said Mrs. Coffey, who is one of the middle children, “was a lot of fun and still is.”


With her siblings, Mrs. Coffey organized a family gathering for her mother’s birthday, Feb. 11, attended by more than 90 people including grandchildren, great-grandchildren, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, and cousins. The next day, a reception for friends, neighbors, and relatives was held at the Knox Reformed Church.

Mrs. Coffey described the family gathering this way.

Paula Willsie welcomed the guests and asked them to guess the party’s theme: daisies. The guest of honor wore one in her corsage and another tucked rakishly behind her right ear. Mrs. Stevens’s children affectionately refer to her as “The Daisy”; the flower is also her middle name.

Grandson Gary Willsie and his band, “Just a Bunch of Guys,” provided music while guests enjoyed a buffet.

The guests looked at wonderful old pictures and listened to an interview with Mrs. Stevens conducted by her granddaughter Paula and great-granddaughter Samantha Willsie.

“It was funny and priceless,” said Mrs. Coffey. “Green banners adorned with daisies and beautifully arranged baskets filled with lots and lots of daisies was the outstanding work of Emma’s granddaughter, Kimberly Miller.”

Old favorites were sung, including “You Are My Sunshine,” “Keep on the Sunny Side,” and “Bicycle Built for Two,” which has the refrain, “Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do.”

Mrs. Coffey had hoped to have her mother honored on The Today Show but failing that — “There are so many people over 100 these days,” she sighed — Mrs. Stevens’s nephew, Leonard Clickman, stood in for Today’s Willard Scott, and presented Mrs. Stevens with a jar of Smucker’s Jam, complete with her picture, just like on the show.

The crowd then sang the Freddie Freihofer song, from the old children’s TV show, because of Mrs. Stevens’s long love of doughnuts. And then each guest lit a candle and sang “Happy Birthday” before enjoying the birthday cake.

The community at large wanted to celebrate Mrs. Stevens’s milestone, too. At the Knox Reformed Church reception, Mrs. Coffey said, Mrs. Stevens’s sister, Betty Perue, was joined by members of long-time Knox families who attended including: Quays, Nicholsons, Chyslers, Van Wormers, Stevenses, Barbers, Coulters, Gages, and Dexters, as well as many others.

Cobleskill College also treated Mrs. Stevens to a luncheon.

A spontaneous celebration occurred when Mrs. Stevens and her daughters were eating at the Home Front Caf? in Altamont and patrons there recognized her and told proprietress Cindy Pollard about her birthday. The lunch crowd sang a rousing round of “Happy birthday” as Mrs. Pollard presented Mrs. Stevens with a candle-lit piece of cake and a ribbon that said “Aged to Perfection.”

“For those who were unable to come, we missed you,” wrote Mrs. Coffey, concluding her description of the birthday celebrations. “To those who came long distances, thank you so very much. To everyone who gave Emma beautiful birthday cards and best wishes, thank you. Emma has enjoyed reading and looking at them over and over again.”

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