Dowagiac’s Evelyn Williams to celebrate 100th birthday

Published 6:00 am Saturday, January 28, 2023

DOWAGIAC — Evelyn Williams does not know what the big deal is about turning 100.

The Dowagiac resident will be turning 100 years old on Friday, Feb. 3, but to her, it is just another day.

“I don’t know why I should feel any different just because I’m another year older,” she said.

Williams’ younger brothers, Jerry and Sonny Bakeman, and nephew, Cass County Sheriff Rick Behnke, visited her at Forest Glen Assisted Living in Dowagiac ahead of the big day.

“I told Evelyn the other day that the secret to living to be 100 years old is to make it to 99 and be very careful,” Sonny said. “I don’t know if she was careful or not, but she made it.”

Williams was born Evelyn Bakeman on Feb. 3, 1923 in Pokagon Township to Karl R. and Rose Emma Bakeman. The third of nine children, Williams graduated from high school in 1941 and married her late husband, Morris Williams, in 1946. The couple moved to South Bend, where they enjoyed a marriage of 29 years before he passed. 

She never once thought of remarrying.

“Someone said ‘why don’t you work on finding somebody?’ I said I had enough trouble breaking the first one in,” she said.

Williams worked at Bendix and retired from JC Penney after 20 years of working as a seamstress. In the years since, she continues to put those skills to use for friends, family and community members, including making pillowcases and other items for her fellow Forest Glen residents.

Williams also enjoyed helping students pursue their education. When she lived in South Bend, Williams provided housing for overseas students who were attending Notre Dame. One of those students, Rita, she became close with, and even traveled to India to visit her. The bonds she formed with those students remain strong to this day. 

“(Rita) was a brilliant girl,” she said. “We talk about every six months. She has twin boys; they started college this fall.”

Behnke enjoys spending time with Williams during holidays, family events and visits to Forest Glen.

“After her husband passed away, she spent pretty much every holiday with us,” Behnke said. “She came to all the holidays and she spent a lot of time with us and our family. She’s part of the family, not just in name but she was always there growing up. My mom – her sister – passed away eight years ago and she kind of took her place.”

Williams’ family has big plans for her birthday. The Bakeman family plans to host a 100th birthday celebration Sunday, Feb. 5 at the Dowagiac Conservation Club. Williams said Rita is expected to attend.

Jerry, 83, and Sonny, 80, appreciate everything their big sister has done for them and the community.

“Evelyn’s always cared for all of us siblings very much,” Jerry said. “We always used to enjoy going to her house in South Bend and she always had all kinds of homemade candies and cookies. She’s a very caring person, not only with us siblings but with everyone.”