At 101 years old, Milford’s Banning has seen a century of change

At 101 years old, Thurman Banning, of Milford, remains active. He mows his lawn, drives his car and, within the last few years, still shoveled his sidewalks in the winter. “I had to have some exercise somehow,” he said. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

MILFORD — At 101 years old, Thurman Banning is a born-and-raised Delawarean, but the Delaware he was born in — just over a century ago — has seen a lot of change.

“It’s everything,” he said, sitting in the living room of the home he has lived in for more than 50 years. “It’s not just one thing. Everything.”

Mr. Banning was born June 13, 1918, around Bridgeville, to a father, Harry, who was a farmer, and a mother, Lizzie, who was a school teacher. He has spent his life in Delaware, having lived in Milford for decades.

“I just didn’t ever care for Maryland or Pennsylvania,” he said. “I never cared for none of them cities. I want to be outside.”

In his words, Mr. Banning has worked everywhere throughout his life: farms, fiber plants, driving trucks. His longest career was driving for Burris Foods, delivering grocery items to stores.

He retired at 57, but it didn’t quite stick — he began working at Atlantic Concrete, then part-time at I.G. Burton picking up cars, before he truly retired.

He married his wife, Leatha in 1939, when he was 21. The two met through his cousin. The couple married in Seaford in a clergy house, Mr. Banning said.

“I gave him a little tip for marrying us. We went to the movies, bought a box of popcorn,” he said. “Came home and stayed with our friends that stayed out with us all night, … got up the next morning and went home and I had 25 cents in my pocket.”

While they may have started their lives together with less than a dollar, the two were married for 77 years. Mrs. Banning passed in 2017 at the age of 95. Though the couple never had children, they took in their nephew, David Morgan, when he was 12.

“Him and Aunt Leatha were special people because not everybody would just take in somebody else’s child at 12 years old,” said Jeanie Morgan, Mr. Morgan’s wife. “It takes a special kind of person. That tells you a lot about their character, and what kind of people they’ve always been.”

“I’d do it again in a minute,” Mr. Banning said. “I never had a minute’s trouble with him.”

Mr. Banning said, when Mr. Morgan first came to live with them, he and Mrs. Banning told him they would try to give him everything he needed: “clothes, this, that and the other,” but, he added, “if he wanted spending money, he’d have to make it.”

That sentiment reflected what Mr. Morgan felt Mr. Banning instilled in him.

“I would have to say the most important thing would have been good Christian values, hard work and nobody’s going to give you anything; if you want something, you’ve got to work for it,” Mr. Morgan noted.

Mr. Banning’s dependability was a “blessing” for Harvey Hastings, who has been friends with Mr. Banning for more than 35 years.

Thurman and the late Leatha Banning, on their wedding day in 1939. (Submitted photo)

“I would buy cars at the auction and Thurman and a few other gentlemen would go get them for me,” Mr. Hastings said. “I depended on Thurman because I knew he’d get the job done.”

At 101, Mr. Banning remains active. He mows his lawn, drives his car and, within the last few years, still shoveled his sidewalks in the winter.

“I had to have some exercise somehow,” he explained.

He has a routine that includes talking with a friend every evening, meeting another friend for lunch every Wednesday and going on long car rides with Mr. Hastings.

“He takes me out and gets me all lost. I think he wants me to get out and walk, see if I can find my way home,” Mr. Banning joked, before adding, “I enjoy it.”

Up until last year, he was still getting on the ground to play with his great-nephews, Jase Thurman, 7, and Ben, 10.

“I think the world of those two boys,” he said.

While he said he can’t quite keep up like he used to, the boys don’t seem to mind.

“They love their Uncle Thurman,” Mrs. Morgan said.

Mr. Banning cites another mainstay in his life for the longevity he’s had — his faith.

Harvey Hastings, left, and Thurman Banning have been friends for 35 years. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

He served on Deacon boards and sang in the choir. He reads his Bible nearly every day — between completing word searches and watching the news.

“The best I can say is: try to take care of yourself and believe in the Lord, leave everything in His hands,” he said. “Leave it up to Him, what He wants to do that’s up to Him, it’s nothing we can do on our own.”

“And,” he joked, “don’t change the menu.”

While his menu may remain consistent — Mr. Banning still grocery shops and prepares meals for himself, too.

He has noticed the changes over the decades in Milford though.

He recalled the road outside his home when it was dirt. He noted that he’d been after the town for a while to pave the road, and recounted how one afternoon he came home after a long work day — 14 to 18 hours, he remembers — and when he parked his car, all four tires sunk into the mud.

“I mean, right down to the running board,” he said. “You talk about coming in hot.”

He got his road not too long after that, he added.

Saturday nights used to be a big ordeal for the town, too, he recalls.

The Banning family pictured in 1952. In the back, siblings Geneva, Alma, Harry and Thurman. In the front, sister Lena and parents Harry and Lizzie. (Submitted photo)

“I can remember, years ago, people used to come on Saturday afternoon, leave their car on Main Street,” he said. “Somebody would take them home, so they’d have a place to park. Now you go up there and get a parking space anywhere you want.”

He has kept up with the changes; his family said he is quite good with technology. In more than a century of life, Mr. Banning said he’s learned many lessons, but one has stuck out.

“I learned to be a listener instead of a talker,” he said.

He said he was thankful for the people, friends and family, in his life, too.

“I’ve just got a wonderful family — my nephews, nieces and all my friends,” he said.

“I do think the world of all of them … I don’t know one that I would call on that would turn me down unless they were busy doing something. Outside of that, if they weren’t, they’d be here in a minute.”