Verlie Mae Pickens: Celebrating my 100th birthday!

by Verlie Mae Pickens

Hello there! Can I have your attention? This is Verlie Pickens – Verlie Mae Pickens. I celebrated my 100th birthday on June 11, 2016, with family members, friends and community members at the brand new Dr. George W. Davis Senior Center. Cathy Davis and her staff organized such a wonderful and beautiful party for me.

Verlie-Mae-Pickens-100th-bday-with-granddaughter-Charisse-Anderson-at-Jones-Methodist-061216-by-Anh-Le-web-300x225, Verlie Mae Pickens: Celebrating my 100th birthday!, Culture Currents
Ms. Verlie Mae Pickens stands tall at the celebration of her 100th birthday following Sunday services at Jones Memorial United Methodist Church on June 12, as her granddaughter, Charisse Anderson, looks on. – Photo: Anh Le

On June 12, my church, Jones Memorial United Methodist Church, honored me with a wonderful birthday celebration after the church service.

And at our June meeting of the Network for Elders in the Bayview, Beverly Taylor and the other Network members had a very special birthday party for me!

I was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana. I am a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Alfred Nisby. My mother’s name is Lillian Lumpkin Nisby. I am the fourth child of eight. I am the second daughter of six girls.

In this article, I want to share with you my answers to questions that Mary Ratcliff, the editor at the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, and Anh Le, a writer and journalist in San Francisco and a family friend, asked me.

Anh Le asked 1) How I was raised, 2) My parents’ teachings, 3) How my parents’ teachings influenced my life and 4) The valuable life lessons I learned from schooling and teachers.

Verlie-Mae-Pickens-100th-bday-with-granddaughter-Charisse-Anderson-at-Jones-Methodist-social-hall-061216-by-Anh-Le-web-300x225, Verlie Mae Pickens: Celebrating my 100th birthday!, Culture Currents
Amid the happy throng celebrating her 100th birthday at Jones Methodist on June 12, Ms. Pickens gets a special hug from her granddaughter, Charisse. – Photo: Anh Le

I was raised by two wonderful people. My mother was a housewife who did not work out of the home. She was to raise the children. My father worked to bring in the money.

We raised all kinds of vegetables. What we did not eat my mother canned for later dates. We had fig trees and grapes. What we did not eat, she canned and made jelly and jam. She would buy other fruits and can whatever anyone would pass by selling.

In my early years, they raised chickens, hogs and cows. We had our own chicken eggs and milk. That helped a lot.

As I grew up to adulthood, I remember a lot of things. I only had one son and I tried to make him a decent citizen and I think he was.

At my school, all the teachers were great. All were ladies; I only had one man teacher.

Verlie-Mae-Pickens-100th-bday-blowing-out-candles-Sr-Center-061116-by-Anh-Le-300x225, Verlie Mae Pickens: Celebrating my 100th birthday!, Culture Currents
Ms. Pickens blows out the candles on her 100th birthday cake at the Senior Center in celebration of a long life well lived. – Photo: Anh Le

You learn so much about things in the world. That’s why I love to travel to all parts of the world to see how people live, their culture, including their dress, their food, homes, the city streets, their lights on the street, how many cars on the street.

Anh asked me, “What are your ‘words of wisdom’ to parents?”

When I was growing up in Lake Charles, neighbors would look out for each other’s families. My neighbors would look out for the children and young people. If one of the neighbors said to me, “I’ll tell your mother and father,” before I got home, they had already told my parents.

Give your children guidance. You try and raise your children to be men and women of their generation and hope their children do the same.

Teach the children well. Give your children a lot of love.

In response to Anh asking me for advice to young people and youth, I’d tell them to try and remain in school. Education means so much in this world.

Verlie-Mae-Pickens-100th-bday-party-balloons-100-Sr-Center-061116-by-Anh-Le-225x300, Verlie Mae Pickens: Celebrating my 100th birthday!, Culture Currents
The brand new Dr. George Davis Senior Center went all out with lavish decorations, including balloons spelling “100,” for Ms. Pickens’ 100th birthday party on June 11. It’s not often there’s such a great milestone to celebrate! – Photo: Anh Le

Please do not start smoking, drink or use dope. Try and keep your life clean.

Mary Ratcliff asked me how can we live a long and healthy and full life, and I recommend that you try and eat right. Eat much more vegetables than meat, lot of fruits and nuts.

My grandfather, Mr. Charlie Nisby, who grew up in Georgia, taught me, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a person healthy, wealthy and wise.”

Mary wanted to know my view regarding how the African American community can go forward. To that, I say, try to remember to teach your children to stay away from guns. There are always five guns against your one.

To Mary’s question, how could families and our family members keep people in our families alive and well as long as possible and as comfortably as possible through old age, I say, eat right, live right and lean on the Lord.

Take care of yourself. Take care of your family. Care about your community.

Care about the Seniors. Care about the children and the young people. It takes a village to raise a child.

I am so deeply thankful and grateful to God for all of God’s rich blessings and for giving me a long, happy and healthy life!

Copyright June 2016 Ms. Verlie Mae Pickens. She can be reached via Anh Lê, a San Francisco writer and activist born in Vietnam who has worked in the Black community for decades, especially with seniors and young people. He can be reached at

Resolution signed June 11, 2016, by Sen. Mark Leno commending Verlie Mae Pickens

Verlie-Mae-Pickens-100th-bday-with-Anh-Le-her-sister-Ms.-Vera-Miyasaki-at-Sr-Center-061116-by-Anh-Le-300x280, Verlie Mae Pickens: Celebrating my 100th birthday!, Culture Currents
Anh Le joins Ms. Pickens (right) and her sister, Ms. Vera Miyasaki, for a photo at the Senior Center celebration on June 11. – Photo: Anh Le

WHEREAS, The wealth of California consists not only in the bountiful resources contained in its valleys, mountains and coastal areas, but in a scarcer commodity still – the diminishing treasure of its elders, who serve as the patriarchs and matriarchs of our communities, historians and storytellers of a precious era-gone-by and who, through the sage advice of their experience, impart on its youth a cultural heritage that provides strength to our state and nation; and

WHEREAS, A native of Lake Charles, Louisiana, where she was born to Thomas Alfred and Lillian (nee Lumpkin) Nisby on June 11, 1916, Verlie Mae Pickens has made her home in California since 1939 and in San Francisco for the last 67 years, during which time she has devoted a great part of her life to discerning the needs of others, both in her family and in the community; and

Verlie-Mae-Pickens-100th-bday-granddaughters-Lesa-Campbell-Charisse-Anderson-at-Jones-Methodist-061216-by-Anh-Le-300x225, Verlie Mae Pickens: Celebrating my 100th birthday!, Culture Currents
Ms. Pickens’ pride and joy is her beautiful family. Her granddaughters Lesa Campbell and Charisse Anderson show their love for their grandmother at the Jones Methodist celebration of her 100th birthday. – Photo: Anh Le

WHEREAS, Upon Verlie’s arrival in California, racial barriers made it difficult for her to find employment in San Francisco, where she eventually found work in the home of a local medical doctor; during World War II, she relocated to Los Angeles, where, as one of the era’s “Rosie the Riveters,” she worked in the airplane building industry at Lockheed and, with her return to San Francisco in 1945, she worked in a variety of industries prior to her eventual retirement; and

WHEREAS, In 1947, Verlie married the love of her life, Samuel Pickens, also a Lake Charles native, and together they raised her son from a previous marriage and, over the course of their long and loving partnership, traveled throughout the United States, Mexico and Canada, having visited every state in the country with the exception of Rhode Island before Samuel’s passing; and

Verlie-Mae-Pickens-Anh-Le-Jones-Methodist-061916-by-Anh-Le-300x225, Verlie Mae Pickens: Celebrating my 100th birthday!, Culture Currents
Ms. Verlie Mae Pickens and Anh Le enjoy Men’s and Father’s Day at Jones Memorial United Methodist Church on June 19, 2016. – Photo: Anh Le

WHEREAS, A beloved civic leader renowned for her remarkable energy and zest for living, Verlie finds time to volunteer on behalf of numerous charitable and services organizations in her community, including the Bayview Adult Health Center, Network for Elders, Senior University, Senior Action Network and Dr. George Davis Senior Center, for which she prepares and donates her delicious peach cobbler to the annual Black Cuisine feast, and she is an active and devout member of Jones Memorial United Methodist Church; and

WHEREAS, Throughout her life, Verlie Pickens has exhibited all of the most treasured human qualities that are universally recognized as true indicators of a life of fulfillment and meaning, and she is admired and appreciated for her kindness, generosity of spirit, love of family, eternal optimism, passion for working to make the world a better place and genuine capacity to share her time and talents with others; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED BY SEN. MARK LENO, That he takes immense personal pleasure in commending Verlie Mae Pickens for a lifetime of achievements and meritorious service to her community and conveys to her the sincere appreciation and gratitude of the people of California.

Contact Sen. Mark Leno at State Capitol, Room 5100, Sacramento, CA 95814-4900, 916-651-4011 or