By Tia Lynn Ivey
World War I had just ended when Katherine’s world had just begun.
Katherine VanDyke, known as Kay, celebrated a rare milestone this week. She turned 102-years old. Living for a century and then some, Kay has just about seen it all. The defining moments of America most of us read about in history books, Kay has lived through firsthand. But through all the wars and socials movements, through all the economic booms and recessions, through all the presidents and politicians pursuing power, through all the modern advancements and technological revolutions, Kay always aimed to live a simple life savoring simple pleasures, surrounded by friends and family. This year, Kay celebrated her birthday with a few dear friends at Southern Cross Ranch in Madison, which has become an annual tradition. Surrounded by 102 balloons, Kaye dined and laughed and enjoyed the evening. Now, at 102-years-old, Kay reflected on her long life and how she came this far.
“I just lived,” said Kay.”I don’t know what I did different than anybody else to make it this long, but I sure did live.”
Kay has been living in the triple digits for a couple of years now, but she’s still spry and active daily.
“I walk everyday,” said Kay, who loves to be outdoors on her 120-acre farm in Madison. “I always exercise, even if it’s just walking for a little while.”
Kay is an avid gardener and is no stranger to farm life.
“I was born in Morgan County on my parents’ farm,” said Kay. “I grew up here and went to school here. I moved away and came back when I retired. I’ve been back for over 40 years now.”
Kay’s parents ran a dairy farm when she was born on Sept. 14, 1918. Her father narrowly avoided serving in World War I.
“My father was all signed up and ready to go off to war, but the war ended a few days before I was born and he thankfully didn’t have to go,” said Kay. “We had a peaceful and quiet life here growing up. It was really nice to grow up here.”
Kay was just a little girl when the Great Depression hit. She remembers hearing her parents talk about it and struggling, but living on the farm always gave the family enough food to get through the toughest times.
“It wasn’t always plentiful, but we always had fresh vegetables and food from the farm,” remembered Kay.
Kay attended school in Buckhead as a child and then attended school in Madison for high school. After high school, she worked at Sears in Atlanta where she met Jim VanDyke. The two fell in love and got married when Kay was 24. Jim, a World War II veteran, was sent off to fight in Germany after the couple was married. He was overseas for 10 months, while Kay lived in California, where Jim was stationed before he was deployed.
“It was a horrible war,” said Kay. “Jim was over there, he saw so much death. When the war was over, he had the chance to visit Auschwitz, but he declined. He said he had seen enough dead people and never had any regrets about not going there.”
When Jim returned to California to be reunited with Kay, the couple enjoyed living on the west coast and discovered their love of travel.
“Oh the fun we had back then,” said Kay. “We didn’t have much. Lived in a one room apartment with a bed and gas stove and a table with no chairs. But we didn’t care. Everyday we would go out exploring. His army friends would pick us up and we’d go all over the place. Had the time of our lives.”
Kay has travelled extensively throughout her life. “There are only two states in America that I haven’t been to: Washington and Oregon,” said Kay. “We loved to travel and explore and see all there was to see.”
After Jim’s time was up in California, the couple moved to Holland, Michigan, where they stayed for 30 years. The couple adopted two children, Lisa and Dan. Holland is known for its glorious fields of tulips. “It was a wonderful place to live and to raise a family.”
When Kay was in her thirties, she came down with a serious rheumatic fever that landed her in the hospital for 18 days and left her with a heart condition. “I couldn’t even walk. After I recovered, and it took a long time, that’s when I really started to exercise. I always made time for it.”
Kay and Jim raised their family in Holland, but Georgia was always on their minds.
As soon as Jim retired, the couple hit the country roads to head back home.
“That was about 47 years ago,” said Kay. “I’ve been back a long time.”
Their children, Lisa and Dan eventually followed. Lisa lives next door to Kay and Dan in Buckhead. Jim passed away at the age of 88, about 15 years ago. Lisa and Dan help care for Kay. Kay has four grandchildren and eight grandchildren.
“They all made my birthday wonderful. It was a big day,” said Kay, who celebrated with friends over the weekend and her actual birthday on Monday with family. “Everyone called and we celebrated. It was just another wonderful birthday.”
Kay doesn’t have any regrets about her life or coming back to Morgan County.
“It’s a good life here,” said Kay. “I like to be in peace. I love to garden, walk everyday, and surround myself with flowers.”