By Jennifer L. Warren
POUGHKEEPSIE – Ask Bessie Marianne Riley what her secret is making it nearly 11 decades on this planet, and she is quick to deliver a resounding response.
“God wanted me to live,” stated Riley from her Poughkeepsie-based Lutheran Care nursing home, where on May 28, the still sharp Riley celebrated her 109 years young birthday.
“Walking helped as well.”
It’s that walking that Riley depended upon when she attended a one room schoolhouse with one teacher. Due to segregated schools back in the 1920’s, Riley, a lifelong Town of Poughkeepsie resident, was forced to make the long trek needed to receive her education.
Her parents, from Columbia, Virginia, welcomed Riley as the fifth child of eight -one of which- a sister- lived until age 105. Riley, who worked 17 years as a dining room attendant at Hudson River Psychiatric Center, before retiring in 1975, married and had four children-two boys and two girls- of her own. More than anything, her life has been defined by her deep faith and devotion to Christianity.
“Give your life to God,” Riley urged when asked what advice she would give to younger people. “Let him plan it out for you.”
That plan has resulted in a formula that has left several of her relatives and those close to her in amazement and with deep gratitude.
“She is a real blessing to our family having lived this long,” said her proud granddaughter, Deborah Pegg. “The biggest lesson she has taught me has been her faith; she also always took good care of herself, never drank or smoked and let her faith carry her through.”
Her allegiance to God and religion also surfaced in the words of her youngest son, William Riley.
“She participated in church more than anywhere else; she was a long-time member of the Women’s Auxiliary Club, always visiting and helping out people,” recalled William. “She has always been a truly avid Christian.”
Continuing that commitment to her faith through her adult years, Riley was also a long-time member of Poughkeepsie’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. Interacting with a long list of people from varying backgrounds over the years in her religious ventures, she was embraced by all whose path she crossed.
“Everyone loved my mom,” said William about how she was received in those days. “I honestly never met anyone who ever disliked her.”
Crediting that walking as well as lots of vegetables, including beets, to her longevity, her son William continues to be amazed at how she still remains a beacon of light and inspiration to this day.
“I’m in awe of how she is still here,” said William. “Momma has always just been momma, and she’s just such a wonderful, wonderful person, who we are so lucky to have around for so long.”