Lois Tilley is a lady with a lot of spunk. At 80 years
old, she holds two jobs, during the week preparing
meals for the children at First Baptist Church's Child
Development Center and on weekends serving as a hostess
at Hig's Restaurant, both in McKenzie.
Mrs. Lois Tilley,
irrepressible at 80 years old, loves adventure.
She has more energy than many people decades younger,
with a can-do attitude that has no time for either
aches or doldrums.
"The best thing to do when you have aches and pains is
forget about it and get up and get moving," she
advises. "Of course, there's times when you get
depressed, but when I do, I get busy; I just don't let
She feels great "99 percent of the time," she says,
counting her blessings, and just one blood pressure
pill per day is her only medication. She's had
first-hand experience, however, that many people don't
enjoy the good health she has been blessed with, having
spent the years following her husband's heart attack in
1978 caring for him through a series of debilitating
illnesses that culminated in his death in 1998, seven
years after he was diagnosed with leukemia.
Lois was born on November 10, 1923, to C.P. and Libby
Taylor of Gleason, the first of three children
including her brother, Joe, and sister, Faye Spikes,
who now lives in Martin.
She was 14 or 15 years old the first time she laid eyes
on Woody Tilley, a neighbor of her grandparents in
Gleason, who was the first man she ever dated. The two
shared one date, then two years later dated once more,
then, after two more years, began dating regularly.
"I never dated another person after that," she says,
"We dated ten months and married."
Lois dropped out of school during her senior year to
marry her suitor, anxious to tie the knot before he was
claimed by the military during a time when World War II
was raging in Europe.
Six weeks after their September 5, 1942 wedding, Woody
was inducted into the Army, remaining stateside for his
first tour of duty. The following April, while he was
home during a month's furlough, Lois became pregnant
with their first child. Then, when Sam was four months
old, emboldened by nearly two years without her
husband, Lois packed their bags and headed for Indian
Town Gap, Pennsylvania, where Woody was stationed.
"That was hard on me; I had never been any farther from
Gleason than Milan or Jackson," she relates, "but I got
on the bus in McKenzie one morning at 10:00 and headed
to Indian Town Gap to spend time with my husband."
To prepare for the trip, she filled a dozen baby
bottles halfway full of Karo syrup and water; whenever
Sam grew hungry, she opened a small can of evaporated
milk to complete the formula.
On the second day of her trip, train officials
transferred Lois and the baby to a bus since there was
not enough room on the train. She worried, knowing
Woody expected to meet her at the train station. But
when the bus rolled into town at 4:00 p.m. that day,
"it worked out just fine," she smiles. "I knew where we
were staying and I just got a taxi to take me straight
to the motel... When I got to the room, he was there,
unlocking our door. He was so shocked when he looked up
and saw me!"
Lois found more permanent lodging at a boarding house
owned by a Pennsylvania Dutch family who was at first
reluctant to take her in, concerned the baby might
disturb the other boarders; five older men who worked
at the local steel mill.
"But he never did disturb them and the men adopted me
and treated me like their sister and their daughter,"
smiles Lois. "I loved every one of them; they were so
good to me."
For three and a half months, Woody was able to come
home every evening, returning to the Army post each
"The highlight of the week was a trip to the ice cream
parlor three doors down; we didn't have any money," she
July 9, 1944, Lois shares, "was the saddest day of my
life, when I left my husband standing on the sidewalk
and headed home with our son and a lady from Waverly.
He was leaving that night for an embarkation port. I
had the feeling I would never see him again, because we
knew he was headed to battle."
It was a familiar story for millions of women who were
1942 war brides, she says, "A lot of them had to go
through just what I had to."
Woody was deployed to Germany where he remained for 14
months, during that time participating in "every day of
the Battle of the Bulge."
"He came home safe and sound. Lord, I was so thankful
for that," Lois says, still breathing a sigh of relief
Back home after being discharged two months later,
Woody went to work for the Bell Clay Company in Gleason
which, Lois says, was one of the better jobs anywhere
at the time: "In 1945 jobs were hard to come by for the
soldiers returning from war."
Two years after the couple's first daughter, Sandra,
was born in 1946, Woody bought a 1934 Ford for $300.
The purchase gave Lois an excuse to go to work: "I
talked him into letting me go to work 'til we could get
that $300 car paid for," she smiles, "so I don't reckon
we ever got it paid for, because, since 1948, I've
Her longest respite from work came in 1957, when she
stayed home for six months when their last child,
Cindy, was born.
After her first job at Martin Manufacturing Company,
Lois went to work for the Wormser Company in Gleason,
becoming a supervisor after her first year. Six years
later, she says, "I knew I didn't want to work for all
my life in a factory."
With the two oldest children in high school, she called
her family together and announced she wanted to go to
cosmetology school. She was 39 years old when she began
attending classes on Thursday and Friday nights and
Saturdays, while still working during the week at
Five months into her training, she was informed the
company was aware she was going to school and would be
leaving. They had a good opportunity to fill the
supervisor's slot and were going to lay her off.
It was a blessing. She was able to collect unemployment
benefits while attending classes daily and, sooner than
she had hoped, in 1963 opened Lois' Beauty Shop in the
closed-in carport of her home, where she operated her
own salon for 23 years.
Still, she says, "I had always regretted that I didn't
go back to school while my husband was gone and
graduate." In the early 1970's when she was about 50
years old, she began taking correspondence courses for
English and economics, while attending classes with the
seniors at Gleason for health and typing, in order to
earn her high school diploma.
"It took a whole year to get it done, but I did it, and
I've never been sorry."
In the meantime, Woody had changed jobs, and as the
city recorder for the town of Gleason had built up to
three weeks of vacation per year. Sam and Sandra had
graduated, Cindy was in high school, and "I was my own
boss," Lois says brightly, "so for about 12 or 13 years
we took a wonderful vacation every year and both of us
loved to travel. We went all the way west and to New
York City, and to Florida a couple of times... We just
In hindsight, Lois says, she realizes she and Woody
could have better prepared for retirement, especially
in consideration of the fact that, during his 20 years
of illness, saving was a luxury they couldn't afford,
with medication alone costing some $400 to $600 per
"We could have saved money when we went on vacation,
but I thank God we went. Every vacation was another
honeymoon, and I wouldn't take anything in the world
for the memories."
Had they waited until retirement, she continues, "We
would have never been able to do anything."
In fact, during their western excursions, the couple
had discovered that national parks hire senior citizens
and college students during their busy seasons. Woody's
dream was to spend their retirement traveling and
working in the state park system.
In January 1995, the month after his death, Lois met
some people who reminded her of the dreams they had
shared. Having worked themselves at Yellowstone, her
new friends encouraged her to follow through with the
"I called the park and they told me what to do, and I
sent in an application and was hired," Lois says, her
excitement at the adventure still good as new.
Ecstatic at the prospect of going to Yellowstone, she
still had months of waiting before the park opened the
first of May.
Hiking at Yellowstone
Having retired from her salon, in 1991 she had gone
to work at the Catfish Restaurant when it was owned by
the Ben Gaines family. She continued working at the
restaurant as the months dragged by.
"At the Catfish Restaurant, Ben (Gaines), Jr., was so
nice to me," Lois recalls, "He told me, 'You're not
just an employee, you're family.' - I thought that was
one of the sweetest compliments I've ever had in my
life. When I had the opportunity to go to Yellowstone
he was really proud for me."
By the time May rolled around, Lois' friend Marie
Nolen, from Dresden, had decided to accompany her on
the trip. The two set out for Wyoming the last week of
April with their daughters, Judy and Sandra, making a
vacation of the trip.
"They did that so I could have my car," Lois explains.
The girls flew home from Jackson Hole, leaving their
mothers on the five-month working adventure.
During the journey northwest, Lois exclaims, snow was
piled ten feet deep beside the road. "We were just
shocked to see that!"
The lavish snowfall was only the first of many
wonderful sights and experiences to come, including a
buffalo that took up residence outside the dormitories
that served as the workers' living quarters, parking
himself for hours in the middle of the parking lot.
The huge animals roamed freely, causing "buffalo jams"
across highways that sometimes lasted 15 minutes. Lois
shares photos of snow-dusted buffalo and elk amid
breathtaking scenery, as well as fun pictures depicting
the adventures of four seasons at Yellowstone: hiking
in the mountains, camping in cabins far removed from
the beaten path, and white water rafting in Montana,
not to mention the geysers for which Yellowstone is
Ready for whitewater rafting in Montana.
Lois waitressed at the park for two years, then
skipped a year before returning as a hostess in 1998
"It was a wonderful experience," she says, "I worked
and met with people from all over: Russia, Germany,
England, Japan, China, Yugoslavia, the Czech
Republic...It was a wonderful opportunity to get to do
To those who say, "I wish I could but don't," Lois
counsels, "They don't know what they miss by not
Always ready for adventure, in September 1998, Lois
teamed up with other local trailblazers including
Nodgel Hartsfield, her sister Betty Nixon, and Bertha
Neisler on a four-week, 7300-mile journey all the way
to the west coast.
"We had a ball; we had the best time, and I'd love to
do it again, that was really a wonderful time," Lois
relates with happy enthusiasm. "To me there's nothing
in the world like friends and I have some good ones;
and I've got the best neighbors in the world."
Meeting new friends.
Lois has worked at Hig's Restaurant since 1999,
later taking on the part-time job at the daycare center
at First Baptist Church, of which she is a long-time
member. "And I love it," she says.
Regarding weekends as a hostess at Hig's, she declares,
"I love it because I see so many friends. And Millard
Higdon is the best person I've ever worked for - he is
the most kind, honest, caring person for his employees
- and I love my bosses at the church too; they are so
good to me."
Her most recent adventures have taken place with the
Young at Heart group of the First Baptist Church, with
visits to New England, Washington, D.C., and, on
numerous occasions, to Branson, Missouri among their
wider travels, plus frequent trips to Chaffin's Barn
dinner theatre in Nashville for Thursday senior
matinees as well as visits to the Opryland Hotel at
She also attends the McKenzie Senior Citizens Center
where, she says, "we play cards, canasta and just have
a good time."
Her hobbies, in addition to traveling, include basket
weaving, quilting and working jigsaw puzzles. "I'll bet
I've got 150 of them," she declares. "That's what I
blow my money on."
She has three grandchildren: Brent, Grant and Jason,
and three great grandchildren: four-year-old Bridget,
five-year-old Austin, and one-year-old Emma Kate.
On the subject of her children, she laughs, "When my
last child graduated, I felt like they should have
given me an award; I'd had 25 straight years of room
mother, but I loved doing it. I count as one of my best
accomplishments raising three children to become
Christians and who are so good to me."
She has also "sat with" and cared for several people
during their illnesses, including Mrs. Thelma Cox,
Harrell Featherstone, Julia Headden and Margaret
"You've got to love people and I love to be around
people," she explains, "If I ever get to where I'm
housebound and don't have anybody to be with I'll be
the most miserable person in the world."
Her message to the middle aged is: "Just because you
get old, life is not over; you can do and enjoy things
"I've had a good life," she nods, "I'd like for people
to know that God has been so good to me and let me have
the health to raise my family and take care of my
husband when he was so sick and still be able to work
until I'm 80 years old. I thank God for it so much."