Bernice Walker sits in her living room singing and clapping to a gospel song with her family as Moriah Nicholson, her great-great-granddaughter, plays along on her keyboard. Her 1-year-old great-great-granddaughter, Miana Nicholson, with a pacifier in her mouth, claps her hands and bounces up and down with excitement.
Walker will celebrate her 100th birthday Saturday in Muskogee. Her great-granddaughter, Quiana Nicholson, said the party will be filled to capacity, cutting the guest list at 200 invitees. She said the party will be a celebration of Walker's life and the impact her life has had on the people around her.
"She's touched so many young people's lives over the years," Nicholson said. "Most people wait until (they) die, but we wanted this to be a big celebration of life."
Walker, who calls Muskogee home, actively participates in her church, family and local community. She lives with Nicholson and her husband, Michael, and their children, and said she loves to travel with them to Branson, Missouri.
"They're what keeps me going – and Branson – and the good Lord," Walker said.
Walker and her husband, Lewis Walker, raised a daughter, Carol Jackson, and Nicholson, who they raised as their own from her birth in 1978. Nicholson and Walker lovingly call each other mother and daughter.
Walker has two grandchildren – Karis and Dameon Jackson – two great-grand children, Nicholson and Damia Jackson, and six great-great-grandchildren – Markaela, Moriah, Miyah, Maliya, Michael Jr. and Miana Nicholson.
Walker said the best part about her life has been loving and encouraging others. For four decades she filled up her station wagon with friends and local children to take them to church at Macedonia Baptist Church.
"I've been through hard times back in the day, but I always rely on God and treat people as I want to be treated," Walker said.
She also volunteered in local schools, encouraged youth and kids in her church and neighborhood and nannied her great-great-grandchildren until the age of 99.
In 2017, Walker hurt her hip and has since retired from nannying, but still loves to spend time with her great-great-grandchildren and attends church several times a week.
Walker participates in her local community by supporting Muskogee High School football. She said she has had season tickets for 30 years.
"I'm a Rougher fan! I love football," Walker said. "I go to every game unless it's raining."
Walker moved to Muskogee as a 4-year-old in 1922. She attended Douglas Grade School, Samuel Sadler Junior High and Manual Training High School in Muskogee, before she attended Booker T. Washington School in Tulsa, graduating in 1937.
In 1945, she became one of the first female postal workers in downtown Chicago.
"When the women started coming in, they weren’t pleased at all," Walker said. "When we went in, they had to be respectful – so some of them gave us a hard time."
Walker said it was hard work – she made 65 cents an hour and 'was glad to have it.' At the post office she worked side by side with Lewis Walker, who she called "the love of her life."
In 1963, the couple took a train to Washington, D.C., to attend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s march on Washington.
"People all around – priests, nuns, white, black, young college kids, just a family," Walker said. "And then Dr. King's speech. I shall never, ever as long as I live forget that."
In 1980, Bernice retired from the post office after 35 years and she and Lewis returned to Muskogee to care for her mother and aunt. Four years after relocating to Muskogee, Lewis was killed in a car accident.
Walker said raising Nicholson, helping others and her relationship with God got her through a difficult time.
She said attending church, spending time with her family and traveling is what encourages her to keep going. She just returned from a cross-country trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with Nicholson and her family and looks forward to more years of living and traveling with them.