Miriam Champion, of Egg Harbor City, celebrated her 100th birthday with more than 50 family members and friends at Gourmet Italian Cuisine in Galloway Township on Sunday, Nov. 12.
Turning 100 is no easy task, but Champion was delighted to enjoy cake, a photo slideshow and musical performances from her family.
“I feel wonderful,” Champion said. “I don’t wear a hearing aid, and I’ve got my mind yet, thank the Lord. A lot of people don’t where I am. They have hearing aids. I can hear everything across the room.”
Champion, who only stopped driving at age 92, often said she’d live to be 100, according to friends and family. She credits her longevity to healthy choices and generosity.
“Don’t smoke, don’t drink, be healthy and be kind to one another. Always be good,” she said.
Those who have known Champion for years described her as selfless but unafraid to speak her mind.
“She’s very feisty, which is probably why she’s lived to be 100,” said Cheryl Re, Champion’s niece. “She’s a strong family woman, strong values, a very strong Christian.”
Granddaughters Raneé Winterbottom and Christina Lyons decorated the dinner hall in all purple, their grandmother's favorite color. Champion also inspired the party favors, chocolate bars wrapped to look like $1 million bills. According to Winterbottom, Champion would often ask, “Want a million dollars?” before handing out Bible verses printed on the currency.
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Champion arrived to her dinner wearing a shirt made by her niece, Debi Lang, decorated with purple letters that read “100 years blessed.”
Born in Atlantic City in 1917, Champion grew up in Egg Harbor City, raised her three children in Lower Bank across the Mullica River in Burlington County, and built a house with her husband, Earl, in Port Republic, where she lived for about 35 years. She now has 12 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.
Champion's niece, Sarah Camillo, played piano during the celebration and accompanied her daughters, Hannah Camillo and Abi Camillo, on violin and Bethany Monica on flute. They played the hymns “It is Well with my Soul,” “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Are You Washed in the Blood?” as well as a ukulele duet of “You Are My Sunshine.”
“She actually told us that she wants (the hymns) played at her funeral, but we don’t want to do it at her funeral. We want to do it when she can hear it,” Sarah Camillo said.
Once a musician herself, Champion sang in a gospel quartet, played the ukulele and taught herself how to play the organ. She continues to support her family’s musical endeavors.
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Her son, Edward “Buddy” Dase, remembered his mother picking blueberries on his grandfather’s farm in Lower Bank, making blueberry and peach pies, and growing and canning her own vegetables. Dase said his mother never missed church on Sunday.
Dean Bult, pastor at Mainland Baptist Church in Galloway for 35 years, commenced the dinner celebration by leading a prayer and praising Champion’s presence in the church.
“She was always ready to encourage me or to point a finger at me and tell me that I need to get stronger for the Lord. But (she) always could see through her heart and has been a great blessing to many people. (She) showed her strong faith in the Lord no matter what. We’re all pleased and surprised because she never acted like she was close to 100.”
Champion also attended a service at Mainland Baptist earlier that morning that recognized her 100th birthday.