OKC Woman Known For Community Service To Celebrate 100th Birthday
The signs are all there.
As Juanita Davis nears her 100th birthday on Wednesday, family members mark her many accomplishments as a sign of a life well lived and successful.
Davis raised seven children, six girls and one boy, with her late husband, Earnest L. Davis.
She co-founded a professional modeling organization in 1959 in Oklahoma City called The Mannequins Club. She was part of the first wave of volunteers to help in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. She conquered cancer at the age of 80.
And, most notably, Davis founded the Tenth Street Better Living Center, currently known as the Metropolitan Better Living Center. The center, which now has two locations, is an adult day center with activities and other services for the elderly and disabled. The center is a long-standing partner agency of Centraide.
In recognition of Davis’ service to the community, the City of Oklahoma City recently installed an honorary street sign in his name at NE 10 and Kate Avenue, near the original Tenth Street Better Living Center / Metropolitan Better Living Center which she founded at 1407 NE 10 The other center is at 702 NE 37.
A birthday party was held on Saturday to celebrate Davis and his milestone birthday. Her six living children were present. They said COVID-19 precautions had been taken and that some of her more than 150 grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren attended the rally in Oklahoma City. Davis’ seventh child, Donna L. Edwards of Richmond, Virginia, has died.
Anita Arnold, Davis’ eldest and executive director of the Black Liberated Arts Center Inc., said her mother paved the way for her children to be heavily involved in their own communities. Arnold said his mother helped them understand the importance of serving others, as well as attributes such as persistence and dedication.
She said her mom felt there was a need for a modeling and etiquette club in Oklahoma City and she just decided to start one on her own. Arnold, who was one of the original members of The Mannequins Club, said the African American club members modeled some of the famous names known to the designer world and the club competed with the Ebony Fashion Fair established by the late l Ebony magazine editor John Johnson and his wife, Eunice.
Break the isolation, the loneliness
As for the adult day center now known as the Metropolitan Better Living Center, Arnold and Davis’ other children said their mother wanted seniors and people with disabilities to be able to interact and participate in activities. They said their mother also knew that many older people had caregivers like spouses and children who had jobs that limited their ability to give their loved ones opportunities to engage with others in the community.
Her daughter Ellisa Johnson, of Chicago, said her mother set up the center in a former church that currently houses the center at NE 10 and Kate Avenue. She said her father built the church and her mother was given a small space to start her center.
“She had her first people here – four people in four recliners,” Johnson said.
Davis discussed the center’s premise in a 2002 story in The Oklahoman.
At that time, the center served around 25 people, including blind people, stroke victims, people with Alzheimer’s disease, people with disabilities, and people who were simply isolated and alone.
“We break down the loneliness and isolation. We provide transportation to and from the center, to and from the doctor’s office, as well as trips and visits,” Davis said in the story.
She said the center offered three meals a day, five days a week, as well as low-impact exercises and games.
Davis said she was delivering meals to seniors when she realized that an adult activity center was needed.
“We found people who had lit the gas, the flame went out and the house was about to explode,” Davis said in the story.
“One day my assistant went to a house and the lady got out of bed, fell down and couldn’t get up.”
Jacquelyn Parks, of Oklahoma City, said she quit her career in banking to take over the center. She said her mother had made many strong connections with community partners over the years and that made it easier for her.
“She was just a powerhouse. She knew how to get things done,” Parks said.
What is the secret of its longevity?
Davis smiled when asked this question.
“I never felt old,” she said.
Members of his family had a lot to say on the subject. They said that his long life is the result of several important things, namely his Christian faith. They said she was a loyal member of the Tenth Street Seventh-day Adventist Church.
“She is eating well, and the main thing is that she trust the Lord,” according to Proverbs 3: 5-6, said her daughter Betty Slaughter of Oklahoma City. “She is a very loyal woman.”
Davis’s only son, Terry Davis, of Oklahoma City, said he was impressed his mother was able to raise her children to be good, successful people. He said she pledged to pray for him and all of his friends when they served in the Vietnam War. Terry Davis said he was convinced his mothers’ prayers were the reason they returned home safe and sound.
His wife, Tomeia, said his stepmother was a strong person with an indomitable spirit.
“When you’re 100 years old, and you’re still sassy, and you have a legacy that even closely resembles the legacy she left, then you’ve done something,” she said.
Arnold said his mother’s determination likely played a role in her earning centennial status. She said once Davis focused on a task they knew she would.
“I’m telling you, she demonstrated the power of the spirit to me,” said Arnold.
She recounted what happened when her mother was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer in 2002 at the age of 80. Arnold said Davis was irritated when she learned that her planned surgery to fight the disease would take place days before recording artist Lou Rawls (now deceased) would perform in concert in Oklahoma City.
Arnold’s BLAC Inc. was the concert sponsor and she was able to convince Rawls to visit her mother in the hospital a few days before the show. The recording artist greeted Davis in his distinctive deep voice and captured his undivided attention.
“She jumped off that pillow and she was smiling so much,” said Arnold. “She told him that she wanted to go to the concert but had to have surgery the day before.”
Rawls entered to dedicate his concert at the Civic Center Music Hall in honor of Davis.
Arnold said that after one of his favorite artists visited, his mother seemed to decide very quickly that she was going to be fine.
“She was instantly healed,” Arnold said with a laugh. “She has never regretted cancer after meeting Lou Rawls.”