For the last several years on her birthday, Laura Ellerbusch has received two bouquets — one from her son and one from her grandson.
This year, a third one was added to the mix — a simple vase filled with daffodils picked from the roadside “touched my heart,” Ellerbusch said. “A little girl who works here was driving to work and cut me a bouquet from some growing on a hillside for my birthday. I thought that was very, very sweet of her.”
The yellow flowers, one of nature’s first signs of spring, are just right for a lady who’s birthday is on the first day of spring.
Laura Ella Walbright Ellerbusch was born March 20, 1920.
This past Saturday marked her 101st birthday.
And what advice has she to share from her 101 years?
“Stay in the church, be a part of the church and stay a strong Christian,” she said. “I love the Lord with all my heart. That’s the best way I can put it.”
Ellerbusch was born to Fred and Vannie Walbright. She was the youngest of three girls, a position she liked. Growing up in Joppa “was always a happy time. We’ve gone to church all our life,” she said.
Her mother died when she was 12. She attended grade school and high school in Joppa, graduating from Joppa High School in 1938.
“I hear when she was young in Joppa, she was quite the dancer in high school,” said her daughter Sherry Barnhill, of Metropolis. “Right across the street from where she lived was a restaurant with a dance floor. People that knew her said she’d rather dance than eat.”
“I never missed a time at church, though,” Ellerbusch said. “But I was a good dancer.”
That restaurant is where she met her future husband, Lindell Ellerbusch. The two were introduced to each other.
“He lived out in the country. We’d meet downtown, there was a little place where we’d come to dance, and he’d come down there. He didn’t come every night — he worked at the plant. But I went nearly all the time unless I was going to have test at school or something,” Ellerbusch said. “I always went to prayer meeting on Wednesday night and Sunday; I was the only young person there.”
Church attendance was — and remains — important to Ellerbusch.
“Being a Christian is my life, really,” she said. “It was always important to me.
“I’ve always been a reader, more so now,” she added, pointing at the 2021 daily devotional books on an end table that she’s about to read through a second time. “I read so much. I’ll read a book and if I like it, I’ll read it again. I really love to read spiritual books.”
The Ellerbusches married in 1939. Along with Barnhill, they also had a son, Kevin. They were active members at Joppa Methodist Church where she was over the NYF and taught the adult Sunday school class.
“We’d get the old school bus and take the kids on night services around the area — Metropolis, Vienna, Brookport,” she said. “They’d be singing loud enough you could hear them across the river when we’d be traveling.”
Ellerbusch was a cook at Maple Grove Elementary School for about 10 years in the late-1960s, early-1970s.
“This little boy motioned for me to come inside and he said, ‘M’am, I don’t like the food here and I won’t hardly eat. Would you fix me a tray?’ I said, ‘Absolutely. I’ll fix it and I’ll slide it under here. I’ll watch the line. When you get close enough, I’ll step around the end and hand it to you.’ ” Ellerbusch recalled. “Today, he’s going to our church. He sits across from me. Every once and a while, he’ll mention school.”
Ellerbusch lived in Joppa until 1984 when her husband decided to move to Metropolis where they bought a brand new house. The couple continued to attend Joppa Methodist Church after moving, but after a while, he decided it was time for them to begin attending to First United Methodist Church in Metropolis. She still attends there.
“I love to go to church. I go every chance I get,” she said.
Kevin played the organ at church as a youngster and now a church organist in Evansville, Indiana. His mother recalled the time when “he wanted a new organ, and we went to Paducah and found one. On our way home, he said, ‘Daddy, are you planning on buying it for me?’ He said, ‘No.’ I looked back and the tears were rolling down (his face); I couldn’t hardly take it,” she said, her voice breaking a little at the memory. “So one day, I worked and he (Lindell) was going out the door and said to leave the front door unlocked; he had bought that new organ. So when he (Kevin) got off the school bus, I was (just) inside the door because the organ faced the front door. I was peeping out, and he was swinging his books and singing and walking up the hill. I didn’t want him to see me. When he got to the door and opened it and saw that organ, he hollered, threw his books on the floor, jumped (on the bench) and started to punching buttons. He was very, very good. I took him to Paducah every Saturday for lessons I don’t know how many years.”
Lindell Ellerbusch died in 2012 at the age 93. They were married for 73 years and saw their family of four grow to include two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
She was the babysitter for all four of her great-grandchildren. She was 90 when the last one started kindergarten.
“A lot that age don’t have the desire. That’s a lot of work,” Barnhill said.
“I just loved every minute of it when I could keep them,” Ellerbusch said.
Ellerbusch still likes to remain active. She moved to Misty Meadows Senior Living Center in December 2013, a month after it opened. There, she enjoys all the activities they offer from exercise classes every Wednesday to bingo every Friday. She also did her own laundry until two weeks ago when someone offered to do it for her.
“She thought I was old enough I didn’t need to do them,” Ellerbusch said with a laugh.
“She’s always stayed busy,” Barnhill said. “She’s very active in all of that. She still loves to shop, and is still quite the shopper.”
Ellerbusch wanted to mark her 101st birthday with her friends, insisting Barnhill bring them cookies to have with punch after their Friday bingo game. “She wanted all her friends to celebrate,” Barnhill said.
And after the last year, they all needed a celebration. “I couldn’t hardly stand it,” Ellerbusch said of the COVID-19 quarantine, fervently shaking her head. “I didn’t like it.”
“She likes to socialize,” Barnhill noted, “and they couldn’t leave their rooms (for several weeks). It’s been hard on them being isolated.”
Ellerbusch’s Misty Meadows friends aren’t the only ones who marked her big day. Her birthday picture on the center’s Facebook page got 200 likes. Thirty-five birthday cards are neatly arranged on her kitchen counter.
“A lot of her friends have passed away, but all of their children still remember her,” Barnhill said. “She has lots of people who know her from this community. Some of the people she and my father ran around with, she got cards from their children. Some of them, she and dad were their youth leaders. Some were friends of mine who’d sent cards. She’s well known.
“She’s pretty special,” she said, looking over at her mother. “She’s pretty amazing.”