Laughter is the outlet for Edwards-Boone

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(Editors Note: This is the first of a four-part February series in conjunction with “Chatham Loves Seniors,” a month-long celebration designed to value Chatham County’s older adults and to fight back against ageism.)

How did a bout with tendonitis help launch Neriah Edwards-Boone into a retirement filled with purpose?

By leveraging her own love of seniors ingrained at an early age, Edwards-Boone gradually transitioned from seeking an outlet to being an indispensable contributor to the Chatham County Council on Aging.

Following the passing of her husband, Edwards-Boone knew she had to find a way to give back to the Chatham community she has known all her life.

“Early on, I learned that children and older adults were some of my favorite people,” Edwards-Boone said. “When I first retired, I was married and my husband was ill. So I spent the first five years of retirement caring for him. He died in 2016, and one of my goals following that was to find my niche in the community. I wasn’t really sure where it was.”

While the 74-year-old Edwards-Boone — a retired full-time elder in the United Methodist Church — planned to remain active in her church community, taking on the responsibilities of a smaller congregation wasn’t in her plans.

“People kind of ask me, ‘Don’t you want to take a little church?’” she said. “And I just sort of laugh. There’s no such thing as a small church, there’s just small pay. Every church, no matter what size, it’s full-time because you do basic pastoral ministry and administration for whatever church you have. And in retirement, I didn’t want to be tied down like that. I wanted to be free to do whatever God was leading me to do.”

Through leg tendonitis, the path of Edwards-Boone was forged. After completing physical therapy for the condition, she was told about fitness classes at the Western Chatham Senior Center in Siler City. Edwards-Boone began participating, and in time, her tendonitis went away and hasn’t returned.

One day, a planned speaker for the Western Center’s congregate clients fell through at the last minute. Needing a replacement, Faye Tillman, the WCSC’s activities director at the time, turned to Edwards-Boone as a potential substitute.

The word around the office was that Edwards-Boone, now an active member of the Council’s Board of Directors, could do just about anything.

“When I went to (Tillman’s) office, I asked her, ‘What do you want be to do?’” Edwards-Boone said. “She just sort of laughed and said, ‘Well, Doris (Western Center receptionist Johnson) said you could do anything!’”

Thus, Edwards-Boone, the daughter of a tenant farmer, began a storytelling ritual — a tradition that would become a monthly ritual at both centers in Pittsboro and Siler City when open.

The subjects were numerous, but the common theme was laughter.

“My goal was to provide some laughter, because laughing is good for us,” Edwards-Boone said. “Actually, the wise men in Proverbs say that laughter is a good medicine. And so, it’s good for us to laugh. I try to provide some laughter and provide some inspiration. That’s what I did in those stories.”

Edwards-Boone is also active around the holidays; she has been putting together the Council’s Thanksgiving program since 2018 and serves as mistress of ceremonies for the annual Holiday Variety show. She laments what she sees a lack of conversation between individuals from different generations.

“We don’t have as much honor and respect for older adults as I think we should have, and (as) some other countries in Africa do,” Edwards-Boone said. “There’s a real reverence and a real respect for age and the wisdom that comes with age. There’s something to be said healthwise about keeping active, to keep your brain functioning and keep your body moving. Those are a couple things that help us to live longer. Older people have wisdom that they can pass on to younger generations, and I think that’s worthwhile.”

Giving a nod to her love of laughter, Edwards-Boone invoked the name of Betty White, the late comic who passed away just 17 days shy of her 100th birthday.

“They contributed right up until their death,” Edwards-Boone said. “I laugh and joke, and I tell people I’m going to live to be 100. I know intellectually, that I’m not in control of that. But I’m going to keep working to do something to inspire others as long as God gives me the strength to do that.”

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