A life filled with laughter and absent of harmful vices helped Evelyn Tennell reach her 100th birthday on May 22.
A retired Los Angeles Unified School District teacher, Tennell gathered with family and friends to mark ten decades of living. Sharing the secret behind her long life, she said, “No smoking or drinking and having a laugh in life!”
The weekend celebration, which occurred outside Tennell’s Mid-City home, included drive-by greetings from several admirers and presentations by her Sigma Gamma Rho sorors. The celebrants also included Tennell’s son, Captain John Tennell, an airplane pilot and engineer; Vanessa Rickmon, basileus of the sorority’s Sigma Sigma Chapter; Mildred Midkiff, who joined Tennell in commemorating 50 years as a Sigma Gamma Rho member; and Ursula Hill, the co-organizer of the event and a mentee of Tennell’s.
Midkiff, age 97, recounted that her friendship with Tennell began in the 1940s when they both were working for L.A. County’s Bureau of Public Assistance.
“Evelyn encouraged me to get my teaching credentials and after my son was born, I never went back to the Bureau of Public Assistance,” said Midkiff, who also retired from LAUSD. “We are godmothers to each others children and we have celebrated many holidays together.” Midkiff also introduced Tennell to Sigma Gamma Rho.
Hill, who describes Tennell as “adventurous and cutting edge,” shared that she met Tennell “when I was an undergraduate and she was the Rhoer Club Advisor (for teen girls) for Sigma Sigma Chapter. After retiring as an educator in the late 1980s, she became a certified travel agent and planned many worldwide excursions with the use of her computer. She understood that technology was necessary for a successful business.”
Tennell realized many accomplishments throughout her life. Prior to moving to Los Angeles in 1948, she lived in the Midwest and earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago, followed by receiving her Master’s degree in English from Loyola Marymount University.
Her career in education resulted in stints at Neven Avenue and Saint Rayfields Schools in L.A. Her next vocation was as the owner of Travel Treasures along with coaching youngsters in mathematics, algebra and trigonometry as a member and tutor at Holman United Methodist Church.
“Evelyn Tennell was always dedicated to the youth and the Rhoer program, the young girls mentorship branch of Sigma Gamma Rho,” said Sharilyn Gordon Jackson. “She always has a loving and kind word to brighten one’s day!”
Recalling memorable moments in her life, Tennell said that she will always cherish seeing her grandson for the first time and witnessing the first time that her son, John, wore his pilot’s uniform. His mother has made a significant impression on him as well, admitted John, who said Tennell inspires him with her “always positive and outgoing” attitude and by being “constantly on the move!”
“It is a pleasure to celebrate such a wonderful lady as she reaches her centennial year,” noted Hill. “We honor Soror Evelyn Tennell as a sister, mother and friend. A living example of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.’s motto of ‘Greater Service, Greater Progress.’ ”
LaRita Shelby contributed to this article.