OKEECHOBEE — Zelda Johnson Mixon, vice president of the historical society and oldest living descendant of Louisiana and Peter Raulerson celebrated her 95th birthday on Feb. 13.
“It was a small group because of this bug,” said Mixon. “On my 90th birthday, we held a big party, and they all said my 95th would be the biggest party ever, but we couldn’t do it after all.”
Despite the smaller crowd, Mixon said she had a wonderful time with her children, grandchildren and close family friends. Her sons cooked wings on the grill and she baked a ham. Several guests brought flowers, and she is still enjoying them several days later.
Mixon is the great-granddaughter of Peter and Louisiana Raulerson, the first white settlers in Okeechobee. She was raised in a small log cabin right next door to their home. The Raulersons lived in what is now the Jeanette’s Interiors building, although the house has been remodeled and changed since then. Mixon’s grandmother, Adline, was the Raulersons’ daughter, and Mixon lived with her for most of her childhood. That cabin is still standing but covered by clapboard now and is owned by the Okeechobee Historical Society, who plan to turn it into a museum. The cabin sits on the corner of Southwest Ninth Street and Second Avenue.
Mixon said she realizes most people in Okeechobee have heard of her great-grandparents, but they know the public or political side. She treasures her memories of the personal side.
“I was in their house almost every day and lived next door from the time I was 2 years old. Every morning, I went to my great-grandmother’s house to get the clabber which came from curdled sour milk and was used to make biscuits. In some ways, I think I was closer to them than their own grandchildren, because I lived there, and they only got to come for visits.”
Her great-grandmother taught her many things. She believed you should never be idle and if she sat down to rest, she worked on her mending. She taught Mixon how to sew and how to do embroidery. She also loved flowers and had a beautiful garden. Visitors often brought cuttings from their own plants as gifts. Each morning, she walked through her flowers checking for bugs and dead leaves. As she walked, she held quart jars of heavy cream that she rocked back and forth until buttermilk was churned.
Her great-grandmother was very generous and when Mixon went to the corner store to get bread for her, she was always given some extra money so she could get herself a treat. Mixon and her aunt helped with chores around the Raulerson house and were often paid.
One of the things Mixon remembers the most about her great-grandmother was her gift for hospitality. She loved company, and her door was always open for visitors.
Her great-grandfather, Peter, had a green thumb too, but he grew things like sweet potatoes and pumpkins. He stored them under the front porch after they were harvested, and it was Mixon’s job to crawl under there and pull out whatever was needed to make supper.
Mixon remembers her great-grandfather peeling oranges for her with his big green pocket knife. Mixon and her friends loved to ride the horses, but they were hard to catch. If they were able to catch one, her great-grandfather would saddle it for them. He still rode his horse when he was in his eighties and would be so stiff with arthritis that when he got off the horse, his legs would still be bent until he could stretch them out walking,” she said.
When she was a child, there were some things she had to be careful around. There was a cesspool in the backyard, and it was covered only with boards. She was always told never to go near it, because she might fall in. The smoke house was another dangerous spot for a child. There was an open pit in the center of the floor, and the only way around it was to walk on a catwalk around the edges. “It sure smelled good in there though,” she said.
When she was 14, Mixon joined the Catholic Church. Back then, the church was located where the Church of Our Saviour is now. It was a little two-story building. She and her grandmother Adline walked from their cabin to the church when services were held. This was not often though she said, because the priest came here from another town, and Okeechobee was only a mission. Services were held upstairs and the priest stayed downstairs when he came.
Mixon remembers Okeechobee when it was very small and had no paved roads. She went to school in the brick school building which is now the school board office. There was a small paved area near the school, and it had a sidewalk. All the kids rode their bikes and roller skated there, she said. Having graduated in 1944, her name is on the sidewalk in front of the school.
Mixon met her husband, Andrew Mixon, in West Palm Beach while visiting her mother. He joined the service when he turned 17 but was seriously wounded in the Solomon Islands and was discharged. They married in 1945. They lived in West Palm and had two sons. They spent a lot of time in Okeechobee on the weekends and during the summer. Eventually, they bought 37 acres from the Fulford Family near where Oak Park sits today and made a camp for family to come and stay or just visit. Much like her great-grandmother before her, Mixon loved having visitors, especially family, and their gate was always open. Later, the family moved to Okeechobee full time.
Mixon has two sons, seven grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren and one great, great-grandson. She is looking forward to having a huge party when she turns 100 in five years, but said she will have to be more careful if she wants to make it that long. She has broken both hips and injured her leg and her back in the last year, ultimately spending about eight months in rehab.