DSU alumna credits ‘God grace’ on 104th birthday

DOVER — Courtney Stevenson’s eyes twinkled anew with each arriving birthday congratulation for turning 104.

More sparkle emerged as she opened cards from faraway well-wishers who couldn’t join the celebration.

On Tuesday afternoon, Delaware State University’s oldest known alumnus was honored with ice cream, cake and a rendition of “Happy Birthday” during a party at the Capital Rehabilitation Center on Walker Road.

The most cherished gift Mrs. Stevenson received was the affection of so many folks checking in, including friends and family members, DSU alumni and fellow churchgoers.

“The best thing about my life is all the people who are around me,” she said with a smile.

Another celebration was planned for the Countrie Eatery Restaurant on North State Street, where she regularly dines on crab cakes, soup and other fare following Sunday service at the Whatcoat United Methodist Church she’s attended for more than 75 years.

When receiving a compliment about her appearance after all the years, Mrs. Stevenson replied, “That’s always nice to hear from someone else because I can’t really tell that about myself.

“When someone else sees that, I feel good about it.”

And her secret to living a century plus?

“I really don’t have a secret,” she answered. “I follow the paths of my God.

“It’s God’s grace that brought me this far.”

Peggy Swygert greets Courtney Stevenson on Ms. Stevenson’s 104th birthday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Among the visitors was Cecelia Dunning, who started at DSU in 1970 when Mrs. Stevenson was in the midst of an educational career that included an assistant professorship of home economics and twice-interim department chair until retiring in 1994.

“She was very elegant and sophisticated, and always well dressed,” said Ms. Dunning, who presented the birthday girl with some cards from the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority they belong to and described her longevity as “simply amazing.”

Seaton White III said family members consistently look to his aunt “as an inspiration for all of us.”

According to a Delaware State University news release, Courtney Stevenson, 104, has been a resident of Dover since coming to the city as a college student in the early 1940s. She is an active member of many civic, fraternal and professional organizations, including being a life member of Epsilon Iota Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. in Dover where she is past president and past treasurer; as well as being a founding member and past graduate adviser of the undergraduate Delta Lambda Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority on the DSU campus.
In addition, she is a member of the Delaware State Chapter of the Links, Inc; and the Order of the Eastern Star where she is Past Grand Worthy Matron and Past Delaware State Grand Loyal Lady Ruler. She also is a charter member of the Order of the Golden Circle No. 43; and is a member of the Daughters of Isis No. 54.

While attending DSU, Mr. White lived with Mrs. Stevenson and her husband William while preparing to become a communications director, print and broadcast journalist.

“She always pushed us to work hard and asked us what we wanted to be and how we would get there,” he said. “Her belief in our future possibilities was quite a motivating factor.”

And when it comes to annually celebrating his aunt’s birthday, Mr. White said “Every year I realize how I am more and more blessed to have her in my life.”

Mrs. Stevenson is part of the Capital Rehabilitation Center’s choir, plays bingo and takes part in the ladies salon day when not venturing out to Lee Nails in Dover. She lived on her own until fracturing her hip in a fall at age 100.

From what Mr. White can tell, his aunt is “always the last resident to go to bed at night and notices if anyone else is needing any help.

“She’s the advocate for a lot of people who may require someone to speak up for them.”

A Lynchburg, Virginia native, Mrs. Stevenson received a Home Economics degree from the then-State College for Colored Students during a graduation ceremony on her birthday in 1944, and then married her husband on Thanksgiving that year. William, a Dover native, graduated from the school three years prior to that.

A teaching odyssey followed at all grade levels in Delaware, including pre-school, elementary, junior and senior high. Mrs. Stevenson taught at the Garrett Pre-School Program in Wilmington, the Delaware State College Laboratory High School, Thomas Clayton Elementary School in Smyrna and Louis L. Redding Comprehensive High School in Middletown.

Mrs. Stevenson earned a Master of Arts degree in Higher Education from New York University and did graduate study in Higher Education at the University of Delaware, Iowa State University and Philadelphia College of Arts and Science.

Courtney Stevenson looks at photos of her self with her nephew Seaton White III. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

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