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Honoring 98-year-old Willie Tebeau
05.29 echoes 1
Miss Willie Kieffer at graduation. - photo by Photo provided

Recently Mrs. Willie Kieffer Tebeau was honored at her church, Holy Trinity Lutheran. She was recognized at the mother-daughter banquet for having been a member of the Lutheran Church Women (now WELCA) for 78 years as well as being the church’s oldest member.

At 98, she is still very alert, sharp and keeps up with what is going on each day. Sunday School Convention also recognized her, on the first Sunday in May, for the eighth time, as the oldest person present. Just as spry as can be, she walked right up to the podium on the stage at the Methodist tabernacle and accepted the honor with a nice little “speech.”  

Born Dec. 27, 1909, Mrs. Willie has seen so many changes. From outhouses, wood stoves and few comforts, she has seen lots of inventions. Electricity, the automobile, television, sliced bought bread, telephones and computers are just a few things she has witnessed as they came about.  

A few years ago, Historic Effingham Society made an oral history video of her life that is on file at the museum.

Mrs. Willie was raised on what we know now as Kieffer Hill by her parents Robert Lee “Bobby” and Gussie Lee Arnsdorff Kieffer. Their home sat at the north end of the present Early Street Extension at Springfield.  She had five siblings: Edith (Anderson), Robert (died at age 25), Susie (Epting), Mertice (Kirkland) and Catherine (Webb) Kieffer. Her sister Mertice is the only living sibling.  

Mrs. Willie walked to school in Springfield beginning in a one-room school taking her lunch in a pail. In the summer she swam in the nearby swimming area known as “Sam’s hole.” She was a tomboy and very active, playing basketball at school.  

Upon high school graduation, she taught for four years. Beginning at Riverside, which merged later with Tusculum, she lived with a family who had children in the school and went home on weekends. After two years at those two schools out from Guyton, Mrs. Willie taught at Berryville between Springfield and Clyo for two more years. Ironically at 98, Mrs. Willie has many students living around her that she taught including: Cora Kight, Matra Fulcher, Horace Berry, James Edwards and Amelia Herrington. These students are now all in their 80s.

On Dec. 24, 1932, Miss Willie Kieffer married Troy P. Tebeau in the parlor of her parents’ home with her pastor, Rev. T. W. Shealy, officiating. Her teaching ended when she married as the custom then was that female teachers had to be single but later did some substitute teaching.

The Tebeaus had three children: Lee Ellen (Hanberry), John and Jo Louisa Tebeau. They reared their children in Holy Trinity Lutheran church where Mrs. Willie served as teacher and in many capacities over many years. Mrs. Willie and Mr. Troy celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1982. Ten years later, Mr. Troy passed away.

Mrs. Willie has enjoyed raising flowers including cactus and roses. She is a great hostess, good cook and has enjoyed doing for her friends, family or neighbors all of her life.  

Active in the PTA, she held all offices over the years. Giving blood regularly until she reached the age limit, she gave a pint to meet the hospital’s pledged goal for the day at age 90 (after a change in age restrictions). Life memberships of Mrs. Willie include: Historic Effingham Society, Georgia Salzburger Society and Effingham Hospital Auxiliary. 

Having donated over 3,600 hours over 29 years as a Pink Lady in 2001, she decided to become an associate member of the auxiliary, not to working anymore on a scheduled basis.

Getting together every other month with the “Kieffer Girls,” her sisters and descendants, is something she has enjoyed for many years. They have enjoyed many outings as well as visits in each others’ homes. She really enjoys those family reunions, too.  

With three granddaughters, seven great-grandchildren, a great-great-grandson and another great-great-grand due in August, Mrs. Willie has plenty to keep her active and interested. She has always kept fit, active and still drives herself a short distance to have her hair done weekly and to exercise at Senior Citizens each Thursday. 

Mrs. Willie holds a hula hoop championship from the Senior Olympics and a basketball record, too. 

Mrs. Willie was honored by her family for her 90th birthday with a reception for relatives and friends to celebrate her milestone. She has since declined any birthday parties offered by her family until she reaches 100.

Eating a healthy diet and staying physically fit, reading and keeping her mind active are things she attributes to her longevity. 

Her remarkable life honors God, her family and others. 

We all hope to be present when this special lady celebrates a century of life in December 2009. 

This article was written by Susan Exley of Historic Effingham. If you have questions, comments or photos to share, call her at 754-6681 or email: