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Ethel Clawson, known as ‘the checkers champion,' tests the skill of her great-granddaughter, Rachel. Clawson, 100, wins every checkers game that she plays, friends and relatives say. Photo courtesy of Gerald and Lynn Clawson

Originally published: 2012-12-23 17:23:01
Last modified: 2012-12-24 20:47:01

100-year-old knows all the right moves

by Sherrie Norris

Ethel Clawson celebrated her 100th birthday on Sunday, Dec. 16, at Laurel Springs Baptist Church in Deep Gap, where she has been a member since 1925.

Dressed in her Sunday best after morning worship services, Clawson was joined by her sons, Gerald and David, her four grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, several nieces, nephews and friends for her special occasion.

A surprise visit from Santa added to the celebration, especially when he announced that when he was a little boy, he used to sit on her lap. He said it was time to return the favor and invited her to sit on his lap — which she did, to the delight of her guests.
Despite a hearing deficit, Clawson had little problem communicating with the crowd that came to share her day, and as usual, her constant smile spoke volumes.

With a calm demeanor and sweet spirit, Clawson is a quiet, petite lady, although in the eyes of those who know her best, she is a giant as a role model and is known in her community as a God-fearing woman who has always led by example.

She was one of nine children born into the hardworking Nichols family of Wilkes County and was a young girl, she said, when her father, who also worked the sawmills, moved his wife and children to Tennessee for a short while, before settling in Deep Gap.

She remembers as a child, walking three miles, one way, to school every day. She also recalls her family home serving as a boarding house for their farmhands and watching “some of those boys” go off to war during World War I.

She also remembers that her father owned a horse and buggy, but no other modern conveniences.
She met Richard “Short” Clawson at the old Laurel Springs church and he courted her for six years before they got married. She was a 26-year-old bride.

Her husband was a lineman for Duke Power, which moved him around a lot, she said. She moved with him to Charleston, S.C., and to other ocations, but she stayed behind when he was transferred to Hawaii.

They later visited Hawaii together to visit their son, David, when he was in service, and went to see Gerald, too, when he was stationed in Panama.

The couple enjoyed traveling during their marriage, and made trips to other locations, including California and Florida.

Clawson has always been an “immaculate homemaker,” an amazing cook and a great family matriarch, her family members said.

She is a gifted seamstress, having made many of her family’s clothing items through the years. She has also knitted, crocheted and quilted many items for her loved ones, which adorn their homes today.

She has always taken great pride in growing large gardens and preserving the goods.
Clawson was widowed in the early 1980s after 43 years of marriage. “We had a good marriage,” she said.

“She’s famous for her German chocolate cakes and coconut cream pies,” said neighbor Steve Idol, who, along with his wife, Kathy,  have enjoyed a long-term friendship with Clawson and consider her more like family.

“Her husband started our daughter a savings account when she was born,” said Kathy Idol. “It ended up being her college fund, which led to her teaching career.”

Among Clawson’s many attributes, her family and friends said, is her uncanny ability to beat everyone at checkers.

“She spent a short time in an assisted living facility a while back,” said her daughter-in-law, Lynn Clawson, “but it got to where no one would play checkers with her, because she always beat them.

Clawson said that work has been the secret behind her longevity, something she still enjoys doing today.

“She has in-home assistance four hours a day,” said Lynn, “but she usually has the carpet swept before her help ever arrives and she insists on making her own bed every morning.”

“Church is still very much a priority for ‘Mrs. Ethel,’” said her pastor, Brent Bolick. “She is in attendance almost every Sunday and drove herself to church up until a few years ago. She has been a faithful member of Laurel Springs Baptist Church for 88 years and is a very gentle person by nature and always has a smile on her face.”

Church records indicate that Clawson’s parents provided the church with its first piano, many years ago.

The Idols lived next door to Clawson for many years, Kathy said: “She was always out working in her yard and mowed it, herself, until she was probably 80.”

Idol said it was an honor for her and Steve to bring her to church on Sundays, assisted by Mike and Mary Alice Coffey, when they are out of town.

“She says every Sunday that she is sorry to be so much trouble and even tries to pay us,” Idol said. “She’s amazing — always ready when we get there, never a hair out of place, and eager to go.”