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Until God Calls Me Home: How These Lifelong Friends Made It to 100


WASHINGTON -- Bernice Underwood is 99 years young, and she does the electric slide better than most people half her age.

"I like fruit, vegetables, and greens, anything," said Underwood.

Fit, fabulous and fierce, Underwood is set to turn 100 in a few weeks on July 23.

Now meet her best friends – Gladys Butler and Ruth Hammett. They're already 100 and have been best friends for about 94 years.

"We've known each other all our lives, and we've been close all our lives," Underwood said.

When There Were Horses and Wagons

They grew up in Washington, D.C. in the early 1900s.

"Times have really changed 'cause when I was younger, there were horses and wagons," said Butler. "We didn't have bathrooms. We didn't have telephones."

The glue that has held their friendship together? Their faith.

"That's the way we live and her parents and all of our parents were friends. Church people. Church-going people, and that kept us united together," said Leona Barnes. 

Barnes was the fourth member of the group. She passed away in May – just two months from her 100th birthday.  Barnes was a lively, witty woman with a memory as sharp as a tack.

"All of our parents were friends, church-going people," said Barnes. "And that kept us united together…. We had neighbors that looked out for one another. If you were sick, they would reach across the fence and give you soup."

Underwood, Butler and Hammett attended Mt. Zion Baptist Church as children. Barnes would join them in the evenings after homework and chores.

"I would have been a member of Zion had my mother let me attend," said Barnes. "She said my place was at Mt. Moriah and that's where I stayed."

In those days, Sunday was a day of rest and worship.

"We used to play dodge ball, jacks -- couldn't play them on Sunday," said Underwood. "Our parents said Sunday was a holy day. We played hopscotch, rope." 

Their Secret to Longevity?

The four women are sitting on a pew at Mt. Zion. And as they reminisce about times gone by, talking over one another, laughing and smiling, they know they're blessed. 

"I am thankful… to get to the age that I am," said Butler.

Looking back, they had no idea they would live this long.

"I have known of no one in my family to get to this age," continued Butler. 

So, what's their secret?

"It's no secret," said Butler. "It's only by the grace of God that we're here, and I praise Him every day and thank Him every day for being here because He's the only one keeping me."

Barnes agreed.

"Honey, ain't nothing like faith in God… You have to have faith in God. I'm sorry for preaching. I just have to tell it," she said.

All of the women, except Hammett, stay active. She's suffering from early-onset dementia. But when we asked her what her favorite hymn was, she started singing "I Surrender All." There wasn't a dry eye in the room, as she sang "all to Jesus, blessed savior, I surrender all" with her son Vernon Hammett. 

"My mother is a very quiet person, but we attended church every Sunday -- every Sunday without fail. She instilled in us at a very early age that faith is very important," said her son. 

They've all enjoyed rich, full lives. Each pursued careers, got married, had children, grandchildren and in some case great-great grandchildren.

"The most important thing I've learned from her is how to be strong and how to care for others," said Tony Butler, grandson to Bernice Underwood. "One of the things that she instilled too was, you may have difficulties, but you overcome that. You put God on your side, and you keep it moving."

And now, they're famous!

Book Offers, Speaking Engagements

CBN News recently posted video of the women on our Facebook page. The clip got more than 13 million views and comments from people around the world! 

It also led to interviews with other national news outlets, book offers and speaking engagements.

"I don't like too much attention, but I'm enjoying this," said Butler.

They freely give their advice on everything from A-Z.

"The first thing I would like to pass on is respect," said Barnes. "Young people are beautiful, but sometimes they'll walk over elderly people."

"Do unto others as you wish to be done by," added Underwood.

"Be there for your children," Butler chimed in. "Raise them to be what you would like them to be," said Butler.

The women were honored at a huge celebration at Zion Baptist Church on June 18.

"My birthday wish for each of those ladies individually and for all of them collectively is that in some way, they have had an opportunity to experience the fruit of the seeds that they've spent 100 sowing in this community and in this church," said Keith William Byrd, Sr., pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church.

Until God Calls Me Home...

Even though Barnes didn't live long enough to attend the celebration, she told CBN News that she would enjoy every single minute of life until God called her home.

"It's just a blessing from God that we're here and we take each day as it comes, and I do. Each day that I wake up in the morning I say 'Thank you. Jesus. This is just one more day that You've given me that You didn't have to,'" Barnes said.

"We played together. We did everything together. That's why Bernice and Ruth Hammond and Gladys Butler, we were close friends cause that's the way we lived," she added.

Knowing that greater love has no one than this: To lay down one's life for one's friends. – John 15:13

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