Marquette woman celebrates ‘almost 100th birthday’ with friends, family

Jay White of Seattle talks with his great aunt, Sadie Merchant of Marquette, at her birthday party Sunday at First Baptist Church in Marquette. Relatives and friends turned out to note her birthday ahead of time when they could gather in one spot. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — She’s not quite 100 years old yet, although that will come in a few months.

However, friends and relatives turned out at a Sunday community open house at First Baptist Church in Marquette to celebrate Sadie Merchant, whose full name is Sadie Eleanor White Johnson Merchant — a name that’s almost long as the life she’s led.

Merchant lives on Marquette’s north side in a house with a ramp built by Habitat for Humanity. She used to live by herself, but lately, she has the live-in help of her granddaughter, Nanette Rushton, of Mankato, Minnesota.

Merchant still has a good sense of humor.

“Don’t tell her I know how to do dishes,” Merchant said.

This is “Sadie’s Sunrise,” a special cake made in honor of Sadie Merchant of Marquette. Friends and family celebrated her soon-to-be-100th-birthday Sunday at First Baptist Church. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

Not that Rushton wouldn’t wash a few if needed.

“I just came to be with her as long as she wants me to be with her,” Rushton said.

She acknowledged her grandmother, though, is pretty independent.

“She was too healthy for the nursing home,” Rushton said.

Merchant doesn’t officially become a centenarian until Nov. 19, but the Sunday gathering took place earlier so everyone could travel in nice weather, Rushton said.

The open house, which followed a worship service at First Baptist Church, which Merchant attends, featured a beautiful ornate cake that had the appropriate name of “Sadie’s Sunrise.”

Many well-wishers attended the event, one of whom was Naomi Guelff of Marquette, a fellow church member and longtime friend of Merchant.

Longyear Avenue was a gathering spot for them back in the day.

“Her mother and dad lived near my mother and dad on Longyear too, and on Sunday afternoon — that’s when you used to go and visit — and if I behaved, I could go with my mother over and have tea with the grown-ups,” Guelff said.

Merchant was and is an accomplished seamstress, she said.

“She hemstitched my veil on the day I got married,” Guelff said.

That was a fortuitous friendship in that regard.

“She saved the day for me,” Guelff said.

Roy Tucker of Remsen, Iowa, a great nephew and professional photographer, used his skills to take many pictures of Merchant sitting on her “seat of honor” placed in a separate spot in the large room and adorned with a birthday balloon.

Tucker was there by special request.

“She asked if I would come up and take some pictures of yesterday and today,” Tucker said.

There was a waiting line, of course, to wish her well — and, of course, have their photos taken with the honoree.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is