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By ANNETTE HARVISON
Oh, what it must be like to be 100 years old. Life began with the ‘Roaring 20s,’ and then, childhood was overshadowed by the Great Depression. When it was time to start a life of their own, World War II came. When that was over, waves of constant change have poured over every decade. Now, a century later, we’re in the Covid-20s.
For New Augusta centenarian Maunteel Dunaway, life has been full of mountains and valleys, but through it all, it’s been a wonderful life. Mrs. Maunteel, also known as Bonnie or Mimi, was born January 11, 1922, in a little community called Sontag, which later turned into a town called Nola. It’s between Brookhaven and Monticello. She came to Perry County in 1949 and has called it home since.
“My husband was a World War II veteran,” Dunaway said. “After he was discharged from the war, we lived in Brookhaven. I lived there while he was gone.”
Dunaway’s husband had a specialty in machinery, particularly a machine that was useful in the timber industry. He traveled to several locations around the South to install these machines, and eventually, it led them to what would become their home.
“He was the only man in the Southern District that could install-in my terms- pole peeling machines,” Dunaway said. “Late one afternoon in August 1949, they gave him a call and said they will be unloading a machine in Beaumont in the morning and told him to be there.”
“I’d never heard of Beaumont, Mississippi. I told him he needed to get some sleep, or he wouldn’t make it. I thought he meant Beaumont, Texas.”
Dunaway said the timber industry began to thrive in Perry County with the installation of that machine. The family, which included their three-year-old daughter, settled in the county and quickly called it home. When the company told her husband they wanted him to move to Florida to install a machine there, they were faced with a choice.
“We had built our home here,” Dunaway said. “I was not the type of person who wanted to live in Florida. I just loved Perry County. I didn’t want to make the move. He left the company.”
“We bought a gas business. It was Sinclair. When Texaco bought out Sinclair, we didn’t want to go with them. We sold out. There was a Standard gas station for sale in New Augusta, and we bought it.”
For years, the couple raised their daughters and operated a business in New Augusta. Their children enjoyed school, and life was good. It was during a time in the town many of never knew. Dunaway said life was a bit different in New Augusta many years ago.
“New Augusta was not incorporated,” Dunaway said. “There were cows, chickens, hogs, every kind of animal running the streets. My husband was one of the members who went to Jackson to get the town incorporated. He served on the first town board.”
When the flood of 1961 brought high waters throughout the town, Dunaway said their home made it through without getting water inside. She said they had just moved into their home in New Augusta-where she still lives-and the new washing machine hadn’t been installed yet. The house next door had water to the porch, and the First Baptist Church in town flooded.
“It looked like one more drop would have put water in my house,” Dunaway said. “We had to ride Army duck boats to the end of the driveway to get to town.”
“We had a fireplace. The wood was stacked in back. My husband had on hipboots, and the water was above his knees. He was 6 feet, 2 inches tall.”
Sadly, life as they knew it was cut short when Dunaway’s husband passed away in an accident at the pole yard. J.M. Conway owned the yard at the time, and once, while he was on vacation, Mr. Dunaway ran he yard. A load of pretty wood came in, and when he went out to class it, the machine threw a pole off the load.
“It hit him across the chest, and it killed him,” Dunaway said.
Dunaway hasn’t ever remarried. She kept herself busy with children, grandchildren and civic duties. She was a hairdresser (for at least 50 years), she served on the town board for 12 years and she was a substitute teacher at the school in New Augusta. During her time as a substitute, she impacted the life of a child who later let her know what a difference she had made for him.
“I was busy,” Dunaway said. “I put the first beauty shop here in New Augusta.”
“I’ve always believed if you live in a place, anywhere, you should be a community person and support that community in any way you have the ability. That’s what I tried to do-be a good citizen, not just live here.”
And that is just part of her life. Dunaway recalled many memories from her childhood, a time that so many of us can only imagine. She was one of nine children, and then her parents took in her cousins. There were no televisions, there was no internet, and milk and eggs didn’t come from the grocery store. Dunaway said technology has made a mess of society, and one day, you’ll look back and realize what was important.
“The first radio we had was run by batteries,” Dunaway said. “Like a car battery. My mother has those daily shows she listened to, and the battery had to be in tip top shape.”
“We had no electricity in the first years of my life. We had no indoor plumbing. We took a bath in a washtub. I was grown before that (indoor plumbing) before that came.”
“When I was in high school, I had to get up before daylight to milk several cows, then I came in to get ready for school. I walked to school the first years of my schooling. We didn’t have a bus.”
Even in those times, there was still excitement and sweet treats. It was exciting to see the new inventions that made life easier. Dunaway remembers when her father bought the family’s first freezer, and she remembers homemade goodies in the summertime.
“I guess we had the only big ice cream freezer in the community,” Dunaway said. “People borrowed it, but we had it on Saturday’s. That’s the day we had a big treat at our house.”
“We had to sit on the freezer while it turned. We didn’t know what it was to have money to go to the store to buy candy. My mother would make a big cake to go with the ice cream. We thought we was in heaven.”
“When we got electricity and water, you’d have thought heaven just came down. I’ll never forget the first freezer Daddy purchased for the kitchen. I showed all my friends.”
The couple raised their three daughters in New Augusta. Dunaway said she stayed in their home after her husband died in 1980. Her oldest daughter has passed, and her youngest daughter, one she and her husband adopted, lives with her now. Dunaway’s middle daughter lives in Diamondhead. All her grandchildren live in Perry County, and she feels more responsible for them. Grandchildren fill a gap, she said.
“I love Perry County. The people here are caring people. If you need them, you feel free to say ‘hey, I need help.’”
“I really don’t feel any different being 100,” Dunaway said. “I’ve always had the personality to always take the bull by the horns. Personally, I’m independent, and I’m a caring person.”
“I’ve always tried to live my life to please the Lord first.”