CIU president celebrates with 107-year-old alumna

It’s not every day that you get to wish “Happy Birthday” to someone who just turned 107 years old. But that was the privilege of Columbia International University President Dr. Mark Smith and First Lady Debbie Smith when they congratulated CIU alumna Ottie (pronounced: O-tee) Roberson at her home near Columbia. She graduated from CIU in 1932 when the school was called Columbia Bible College (CBC) and was located in downtown Columbia. She is CIU’s oldest alumni member. Her birthday was March 18.

Roberson’s eyes were bright with surprise at the visit.

“You didn’t have to, but you did,” Roberson said repeatedly referring to the visit.

Roberson’s room was adorned with dozens of birthday cards from well-wishers, flowers and huge balloons shaped in the numerals, “107.” The Smiths looked through Roberson’s memorabilia of CBC including news clippings and photos of the school in the 1930s, as well as classroom notes she had saved. The Smiths were joined by Diane Mull and Peggy Lee Manoogian from the CIU Alumni Office. Before leaving, the visitors harmonized on the hymns “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and “Amazing Grace,” to the delight of Roberson.

“Her heart of thanksgiving for me showing up was unbelievable,” President Smith said. “The joy in the visit was ours not hers. I saw a lady who loves God, and who at 107 has not a mournful story, but she has a story of joy and happiness and excitement about living 107 years. My day was made by being there with her.”

Roberson is a member of Congaree Baptist Church in West Columbia.

— Bob Holmes is communications manager at Columbia International University.