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Juanita Hyatt, the lifetime Posey County resident known for her stylish hats and sharp wit, is celebrating her 100th birthday Jan. 31. A special luncheon will be held in her honor at the Ford Home on Sunday, Jan. 29.
Hyatt has become a staple of New Harmony, a piece of the town and its history that is still being written.
“I wake up every morning and thank the Lord that he saw me safely through the night,” Hyatt remarked. “And whatever comes up on a daily basis, I try to handle.”
At an age when most of her peers are in nursing homes, Juanita still runs her own errands, drives her own car and finds time to socialize with friends along the way.
The 99-year-old kept busy last fall, when she served as one of Posey County’s 20 torchbearers during the state’s bicentennial. Later that same month, she rode in Poseyville’s Autumnfest parade as the event’s designated marshal.
So what’s her secret to a long, healthy life?
It helps that longevity runs in the family. Hyatt’s older sister, Eula Freeman, was going on 101 when she passed away in 2011. Her other sister, Catherine Carr, is still alive, and Juanita said her mother also lived a long life.
In addition to her sturdy genes, Hyatt said she never smoked or drank, and remained active throughout her life.
Her wise choices and good luck seem to have paid off.
“I feel really good; I really do,” Hyatt said about three weeks before her birthday. “Some people have all kinds of diseases, but knock on wood, I’ve been very, very fortunate.”
A life of love, laughter and tragedy
A long life is rarely devoid of struggle, and Hyatt’s is no exception. In her 100 years, she has experienced joy and despair, happiness and hardship.
“I’ve had love, laughter and tragedy,” she said. “Most families do, just some more than others.”
Juanita was raised in the rural community of Griffin as one of four children born to George and Grace Horton. She was one of the few surviving residents to witness the destructive Tri-State Tornado that passed through the small town in 1925.
This was the deadliest tornado in the history of the United States and holds many other infamous records. Winds reached nearly 300 miles-per hour. About 695 deaths are associated with the Tri-State Tornado - including Hyatt’s only brother.
“That was probably one of the worse things that’s ever happened to me,” Hyatt said. “There’s been many good things in my life, but there’s been a lot of darkness, too.”
After the tornado, Hyatt’s family relocated to New Harmony.
A few years after the tornado, the Great Depression hit. It was a difficult time for the family and the nation as a whole.
“After the move, we just existed,” Hyatt said. “You people of today cannot imagine what we went through. If you had a nickel at that time, then you were doing all right. If you had a quarter, that was really something.”
Few families, including Juanita’s, had a car. Instead, they relied on a different mode of transportation.
“You had to have a horse and buggy or a wagon to get from the country into town,” she said. “I remember one time when we lived on the farm in Griffin, my mother had to go to the dentist in New Harmony. So I came to the dentist with her in the buggy. It was what everyone did.”
During the Depression, Hyatt reached out to, Herbert Hoover, the president whose legacy was forever tarnished by his inability to solve the nation’s monumental economic crisis. To this day, Hyatt says she believes the criticism was unwarranted.
She still has the letter she received in reply from Hoover framed in her home.
“I wrote to him when I was about 13 or 14 years old,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it when I got a reply back.”
A beautician life
Hyatt operated her own beauty pallor, Juanita’s, in New Harmony for nearly 50 years.
The former beautician said the first time she styled someone’s hair on a regular basis was in the seventh grade. A doctor and his wife lived a few houses down from her family, and each morning, Hyatt visited his wife to set her hair in pin curls. When the young girl got out of school for the day, she would return to their house to comb the woman’s hair out again.
“I always had a knack for fooling with hair,” Hyatt remembered. “I just always liked doing it.”
After she graduated high school, Juanita attended Lockyear Business College in Evansville. She married her husband when she was 18. After she completed her business training, the young couple moved to New Jersey for five years.
When the Hyatts returned to Southwest Indiana, Juanita decided to pursue a career as a beautician. She went to a beauty school in Evansville, and after traveling to Indianapolis to receive her license, she opened Juanita’s in New Harmony.
Juanita kept the women in town looking stylish during her half a century long career. Fixing hair didn’t change much as time went by, but the cost of a haircut did.
“When I first went into business, I think a regular haircut cost about 75 cents. A perm was $1.50,” Juanita said. “If only it still cost that much!”
A part of New Harmony
Juanita and her husband raised three sons together. After she retired and closed her shop, Hyatt continued as a regular volunteer at the Ford Home, a retirement healthcare facility in New Harmony. She also took up gardening, rose gardening in particular.
Even when other friends went off to retire in Florida, Hyatt said she never had a desire to leave the county she grew up in.
“That was home. All of our friends were there,” she said. “People didn’t used to move around like they do today. You would stay put.”
By staying put, Juanita has been able to plant deep roots in the community she loves. Her many friends and acquaintances look forward to her visits, and the soon-to-be 100-year-old social butterfly visits them regularly.
“I have been blessed with very many friends,” she said. “I have good health and good friends, and for those two things. I am very grateful.”