Image of an elderly woman in a leather chair with two young girls in the background
Eddie Mae Prisby blesses the food before guests eat. Family members and friends came together to celebrate with her. Asha Blake/The Portager.

Ravenna resident Eddie Mae Prisby celebrates 100 years

In Ravenna, Eddie Mae Prisby spends her days doing crossword puzzles and spending time with her family. Her personality, so full of life, keeps her going as she enthusiastically turns 100 years old.

Born Dec. 8, 1921, Prisby and her family were one of the first Black families to live in Kent. Her father, Henry Brown, worked for the railroad to bring in income for the family. Her mother, Nevannah Watkins, housed Black Kent State students because at the time, the university did not allow Black people to live on campus.  

Victoria Prisby tears up as one of her sisters, Mary Prisby, makes a speech about her. Victoria was the planner for the event. Asha Blake/The Portager.

Prisby grew up with two brothers, Joshua and Henry Harold Brown. Their old house, which used to be at 1204 Franklin Ave., was a brown, two-story, wood-frame house with four bedrooms. Prisby recalled the house had a water pump that her mother used for laundry and a light bulb that never went out for 21 years.

As she started school, she picked up a talent that would stay with her as she grew up: playing music. In fourth grade, she learned how to play the piano. She started off playing by ear, but then she began getting training from a lady who was a nearby neighbor. Prisby also played the violin and ukulele, but the piano was what she enjoyed most.

Kids around the neighborhood would ride their bikes, and Prisby would play songs on the piano to entertain them. She smiled as she expressed her love for the instrument. Her mother encouraged her and got her started in playing for the youth group at their church. Her enthusiasm and talent enabled her to play in numerous churches around Portage County throughout her life.

Once Prisby got older, she met a man who would eventually become her husband, Eugene Glenn Prisby, in 1937. They got married Nov. 15, 1941. Eugene was from Ravenna. He also, like Eddie Mae’s father, worked for the railroad and then eventually moved to a career at the Ravenna Arsenal during World War II. If Eddie Mae’s personality was fiery, Eugene’s was quiet and laid back. 

Eddie Mae and Eugene were married for 55 years until he passed away in 1996. Together, they had seven children, five girls and two boys.

Five of the Prisby children attended their mother’s event. The other two siblings, Errol Prisby and Glenda Bronner, have passed away. Asha Blake/The Portager.

She values her family. Her oldest daughter, Mary Prisby, mentions that her mother is caring, but she is also blunt. Eddie Mae speaks her mind and lets her children know when something is wrong, but she never turned her back on them. “Mom has been there for all of us,” Mary said.

Eddie Mae is also a grandmother to 20 grandchildren. They expressed their pride in their grandmother and all she has done. “She raised me,” Bert Prisby, Eddie Mae’s first grandson, said. He believes that all his life experiences happened because of her.

Richard Prisby, Eddie Mae’s grandson, assists Eddie in sitting her down for guests to congratulate her on making 100 years. Asha Blake/The Portager.

Being an Ohio resident all her life, Prisby has had the opportunity to build connections with people around the community. She volunteered at UH Portage Medical Center from 2014 to 2019. Prisby would play the piano in the lobby for anyone who was nearby. She played every Friday and was the oldest volunteer. 

“We loved having her there,” said Sandy Haskell, the hospital’s volunteer director. Prisby had been volunteering until she lost feelings in her hands and could no longer coordinate notes or chords.

Many people came to celebrate with Prisby on Saturday at the Skeels-Mathews Community Center. Family members and friends lined up to speak with her and took photos to commemorate the moment. “I am grateful to have her in our life,” said Brooke Prisby, one of Eddie Mae’s granddaughters.

As Prisby talked to all the guests, she shared some advice about how she stays healthy. “Eat right, eat vegetables. I like all kinds of greens,” Prisby said. She also wanted future generations to know that treating others with kindness gets you far in life.

+ posts

Asha Blake is a contributing photojournalist for The Portager.

  1. I have only met Ms. Prisby a few times, two of which I’ll remember forever.

    I was the pianist for a wedding to which the bride and groom were very late. The ceremony was nearly an hour behind schedule. I prepared a few pieces to play before the ceremony. Being a young pianist, I didn’t have the repertoire to pull from that more experienced pianists would. I kept playing the same three songs over and over again. I learned later (after meeting her at the reception) that Ms. Prisby was sitting in the congregation. She can play from memory for hours and hours. I wish she would have saved me that day, haha. I met her at the reception. Conversation with her and her daughter was an absolute joy.

    The next time I met with Ms. Prisby was to go see her play at the hospital in town. She volunteered there and played the piano right in the lobby. I went to sit and hear her play. This is when I learned how much music lives within her that she can play without looking at a single page.

    What an extraordinary woman and musician. I know that after only a few interactions.

    Happy birthday, Ms. Prisby!

  2. I love my Grandma so much it was a true blessing to see all my family again. My mother is Glenda Prisby-Bronner. And I know she was with us in spirit. Love y’all ????

  3. The first time I met Eddie Mae was in 1986 when she came to San Diego to visit her son John. John and I became best friends a year earlier while serving in the Navy-we were inseparable twin brothers from different mothers. Eddie treated me like I was one of her own with all the love a mother could give, so I started calling her Mom.
    It’s now June 2022. I just got back from visiting John, Mom and the rest of the family. I haven’t seen John in 31 yrs, and Mom in 36 yrs. I’ll tell you what, it was as if we had never been apart. I have NEVER in my life been treated so kindly and loved on so much by a family (including my own, most of which has passed). They adopted me and I truly feel a part of this wonderful family. What makes them so wonderful? Love! That and their servant-leadership in life. They are the true embodiment of what Christ taught us to do. There is so much pertinent history that this family has made: their overcoming the challenges of racism at during that time, their contributions to building the community, their contributions to the fight for equal rights…the list goes on so long that it could fill several of volumes of books! Mom raised her kids to live, learn, and most importantly, to love ALL people! She has led by example, by loving all and serving others with the gifts that God has given her (hers was playing the piano, and WOW could she play!) God has blessed her and her family richly, and by knowing them I have been blessed beyond comprehension.
    Congratulations on making 100 Mom! I love you so much!
    May God’s blessing continue to rain down upon on you and the family! I love y’all!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *