ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — A St. Paul woman defied the odds and she pushed the limits her entire life. She lived to be 109 years old.

Dorothy Hall McFarland grew up in St. Paul in the early 1900s. She was a member of a prominent African-American family and spent more than 50 years working as a pre-school teacher.

In this week’s Life Story, Angela Davis shows us how Dorothy is remembered as a lady with a strong personality.

“She was the light of my life. She was totally full of entertainment,” Stephen Crawford, her great nephew, said.

Stephen Crawford had a close relationship with his aunt Dorothy. She was his grandmother’s sister.

“She was extremely excited to have turned 100 years old,” Crawford said.

After that came nine more birthday parties for Dorothy.

To her family’s surprise, Dorothy’s health didn’t decline after she moved into a nursing home 10 years ago. Having new neighbors seemed to energize her.

“She had the spryness and personality of a 60-year-old. It didn’t affect her one bit physically,” Crawford said. “And she was spunky. She was quite independent.”

Though she married twice, she never had children. Instead, Dorothy had a long career as a pre-school teacher, devoted to helping African-American children succeed.

“She wanted to teach little kids basic skills so they could have some tools to get ahead,” Crawford said.

“That was how her activism took shape. She shaped the lives of all those children,” Janne Eller-Isaacs of Unity Unitarian Church said.

Dorothy believed in fighting for social justice, and in 1949, made the bold move of leaving her family’s Baptist church to join a Unitarian Church. One that was deeply involved in social action.

“She came here and decided this was her faith and apparently sat down and told the family she was a Unitarian and this faith better suited who she was and wanted to be,” Eller-Isaacs said.

Eller-Isaacs is the co-minister of Unity Church in St. Paul, where Dorothy was a longtime member. She says her memorial service was filled with people sharing colorful stories of a woman determined to live her life as she pleased.

“Dorothy was a character. She refused to ever let go of being a character,” Eller-Isaacs said.

Dorothy Hall McFarland passed away in her sleep on June 17. She was 109 years old.

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