By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Viva Whitenton’s life has been filled with music, and so was her 100th birthday on Friday.
The Tupelo woman, who ran Whit’s Music with her late husband A.T. for 50 years, shared the microphone with Tupelo’s Kay Bain for renditions of “You are My Sunshine,” “Come Home Bill Bailey,” “Amazing Grace” and “When the Saints Go Marching In” during her party at the Traceway Green House.
Music has been a part of Whitenton’s life since she was young.
“I played the mandolin, the guitar and the fiddle,” said Whitenton, who was born Sept. 7, 1912, in Alabama, and has two children, one grandchild and three great-grandchildren. “I played whatever people wanted to hear.”
Whitenton was also a pioneer in the field of caring for the aging. She was among the first group of elders to move from Cedars, which was a large, institutional model nursing home on the Traceway campus, into the Green Houses, which are designed like single-family homes, with a kitchen and living room at the center.
The Traceway Green Houses were the first in the nation. The model, which emphasizes shared decision-making by the small group of elders who live there and their caregivers, have now been replicated around the country.
Nearly 10 years later, Whitenton is one of three original Green House elders. James Johnson and Sarah Biddle also live in the same Green House – the Franks House.
The move to the Green House has been good for Whitenton, who tended her own garden at home until she was 90, said son Doug Whitenton, who lives in Tupelo.
“Nobody’s happy when they have to leave their home,” Doug Whitenton said, and the transition to Cedars was difficult in 2001. “When she came over here, her feelings began to change.”