By ANGIE CARNATHAN
Jimmy Stevens celebrated his 94th birthday on Thursday with friends and family at the Cadence Bank in Starkville. Although 94 is an impressive age to reach, Stevens is much younger at heart. He still walks three miles a day even if it’s cold or raining, according to a neighbor.
Friends of Stevens said he has lived a fascinating life filled with stories about his childhood and his time in the Navy during WWII. He even wrote his own memoir last year called “First.”
When interviewed about the book last March, Stevens said the book wasn’t long, but he hoped it was worth the asking price of $10.
“I want it to be worth that much to you,” he said. “If it ain’t, I’ll give you the $10 back.”
Stevens said he and his friends have been gathering at the Cadence Bank together for decades.
“I guess we’ve been having coffee together for about 60 years,” Stevens said of the group.
When asked what he’d learned in his 94 years, Stevens’ response was both witty and brutally honest.
“What have I learned in 94 years?” Stevens said. “I’ve been trying to forget most of it.”
Stevens showed a picture in his memoir of himself at 26 when he was in the Navy.
“I was in a little better shape then,” Stevens said, and without missing a beat, added, “and I tell you what, I had a girl in every port.”
Stevens’ charm makes that fact hard to doubt. All of the attendees of Stevens’ birthday celebration said that they consider having him as a friend and neighbor to be priceless. The following are just a few excerpts from the memories and stories his friends and family shared on his 94th birthday:
“I have been his caretaker for the past six years, and he has been a real inspiration to me and I like to think of him as the little man with the big heart. He is the kindest man you will ever meet. My father has already passed away, and he is the closest thing to a father I have.” — Carolyn Fowler
“If there is such a thing as the perfect neighbor, it has to be Jimmy Stevens. Mr. Jimmy has been my neighbor and friend for nine years.
“In the dozens of times I have visited him I have never once heard him complain that he doesn’t feel well or give me a list of his aches and pains; this includes the many weeks he was in the nursing home. He always has a smile and a good story to share. I continue to be amazed at the remarkable memory this man has at now 94 years of age. He’s told me stories from his early childhood in Forest, to his time in the Navy, to his years as a Starkville resident.
“One of my favorite stories has to be when he and his late wife, Katheryn, went to Chattanooga for a little sightseeing. They took along Katheryn’s parents, the Wells.
“Mr. Jimmy knew Mr. Wells was a little tight with money, so he paid for the motel rooms. Mr. Wells asked the price and upon finding out, he said, “You mean we’re paying $5 to sleep in someone else’s bed?”
“I also love the story about how Mr. Jimmy got into the Navy. He and about six friends loaded up in the car and drove to New Orleans to the recruiting station. When they went in, Mr. Jimmy stood on the scales and only weighed 118 pounds. You had to weigh 120 pounds to get into the service. One of the recruiters was about to turn him away, but another one told him to go out and drink half a gallon of orange juice and eat six bananas and to come back. So Mr. Jimmy told me that he drank the orange juice, but he could only stuff down four of the bananas. He told me, ‘I went back into that recruiting office, stood on the scales and weighed 120 1/2 pounds, and that’s how I got into the Navy.’
“Mr. Jimmy is a city, state and national treasure. To spend time with him gives you enjoyment as well as information. Talking with him is a history lesson.
“John, my husband, and I are blessed to have Jimmy Stevens as our friend. We treasure knowing him.” — Mary Barrett
“He’s been our neighbor for years. We watch him walk up and down our street, three miles every day.
“He pushes his wheelchair when he walks, and he said that he does that so if he gets tired, he can just sit down.
“Or if someone comes out to talk to him, he’ll just take a seat and he’ll sit and visit with you a while. Sometimes he and I just have a great conversation, right out in the middle of the street.” — Sue Gibson