Evelyn Brooks has a lot to celebrate this month. She received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, she turned 100, and even though her friends and family couldn’t hold a traditional birthday party for her due to the COVID-19 pandemic, her mailbox has been stuffed with birthday cards, her church planned a virtual surprise celebration for her, and a parade of more than 100 vehicles filled with well-wishers visited her to mark her special day.
Brooks, known to family, friends, and the greater Hopewell Valley community simply as “Nana”, held court Saturday afternoon wearing a face mask and sitting on a special plastic protective chair in front of the Hopewell Train Station as people pulled up in their vehicles to wish her a happy birthday and drop off flowers, balloons, and other presents. The celebration featured singing, violins, and more than one four-legged friend in a party hat.
The matriarch of the Brooks family, Nana has 10 children, 24 grandchildren, 45 great-grandchildren, and seven great-great-grandchildren. She has lived in Hopewell Township for more than eight decades, is the oldest member of the Second Calvary Baptist Church in Hopewell, is part of the oral histories project at the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum, and appears in the book “If These Stones Could Talk” by local historians Elaine Buck and Beverly Mills. She was the first African American student to be a member of her high school marching band, and she later studied piano in Harlem under African American concert pianist Sonoma Talley. She loves reading, tea, crocheting, using her computer, and watching BBC programs.
Brooks spent more than an hour waving and calling out thank you to people who drove by in more than 130 vehicles to see her on Saturday. And as of Saturday night, she has received 217 birthday cards. Her grandchildren’s goal was for her to receive 100 cards to celebrate her centennial birthday.
What does it feel like to be 100 now? “Well, it feels just the same as it did yesterday,” she said with a shrug when asked.
After the parade was over, relatives wanted to know if she was ready to go home. “No!” She shook her head. “I’m ready to hop to it now,” she said. “Put some music on and I’ll show you what I can do.”
Asked what her secret to a long and happy life is, she didn’t pause. “Just be thankful for everything you have,” she said.