PALMETTO -- In 1911, at age 5, she was already helping her mother cook, sew and tend the garden at the family farm in Fort White, near the Ichetucknee River in Columbia County, near Lake City.
On Sunday, at age 105, Susie Mae Bynum’s fingers still moved like they wanted to do all that work and more -- to plant flowers, harvest tomatoes, buy a ticket for a Greyhound trip somewhere, cook some biscuits, sew a torn shirt or make a quilt.
But Bynum, possibly Manatee County’s oldest citizen, had to settle for buttoning the buttons on her sweater, smoothing out the wrinkles on her sweatpants and being pampered by her large and loving family who threw her a huge birthday party in Palmetto.
Bynum, who lives with her daughter, Oretha Roundtree, enjoyed party hats, picture-taking, a large white birthday cake, soft drinks and lots of soul food.
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Bynum suffered a stroke at 102 that has diminished some, but not all, of the sharp mental acuity that had her living independently in her own tidy Palmetto home up until she was 100. She can still hop up out of a chair and walk. But thought and speech are not razor sharp as they once were.
In 2007, she told her life story rapid-fire into a digital camcorder being held by her great-grandson, Craig Roundtree, a football coach at Southeast High School.
“She knew everything back then,” Roundtree said. “I will always remember she had a sign at her house that said, ‘Do What Must Be Done.’ I think that is her philosophy. She is a ‘Take care of business’ woman.”
Her friends call her Sister Bynum, as she is called at St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church in Palmetto, where she attends. But for some reason, her grandchildren have always called her “Grandma Eunice.”
“No one knows why,” said great granddaughter LaKisha Roundtree.
There is also much speculation on where exactly she was born, with no one quite sure.
But all agree it’s kind of cool that an air of mystery surrounds Manatee County’s possibly oldest resident.
“Grandma Eunice” is admired by many who see her as a strong role model for women of all races, ages and creeds.
“She’s done some things that some are afraid to do,” said her longtime friend, Inez Ware of Palmetto. “She cooks the best biscuits anyone can put on their plate and she can raise a garden and flowers like no one. But she wasn’t afraid to buy a bus ticket and travel alone.”
Bynum became a widow in 1968 and never remarried. Her friends say her standards were high and she wasn’t going to settle.
“Knowing her, if the right one had come, she would have married,” Ware said. “But she wasn’t afraid of being single. Some people move on and some people don’t move. She’s a mover. She got on with her life, and did the things she loved, like sewing, cooking, traveling.”
“Her early life was farming,” said Jacksonville’s Charles Roundtree Sr., 86, her only son. “Her family owned lots of land in Fort White. They dealt with tobacco, corn, hogs. They had a smokehouse. All of her life was tough work. She’s still quite an inspiration to many.”
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.