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Retired Piedmont nurse, dollmaker now 107 years old

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Mrs Loftin

Shown here in a family photo from years ago, former Piedmont resident Wilda ‘Billie’ Loftin is now 107 years old. She raised four sons in Piedmont and worked as a nurse for more than 50 years at Piedmont Hospital and at a health facility in Heflin. 

On Oct. 30, Wilda “Billie” Bergdoll Loftin celebrated her 107th birthday at Cherokee County Health and Rehab Center in Centre. 

Loftin, who lived most of her adult life in Piedmont, was once the director of nursing at the former Piedmont Hospital and, after retirement, was director of nursing at a facility in Heflin. She was known for being a good cook and for growing red roses. Also, after retirement, she made and sold cloth dolls, dollhouses and doll furniture.

“She is very pleasant,” said the health center’s social worker. “We love her. We have been able to have the pleasure of seeing her through multiple stages in her life. She doesn’t talk as much now, but she still smiles. To my knowledge, we haven’t had another resident who made it to a hundred and seven years old.”

Loftin’s son, Steve, who is one of four sons Loftin raised, said his mother grew up in Petersburg, W. Va., and, after graduation from high school, wanted to become a nurse. She had a contact in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative or a friend, Steve is unsure which. Soon after graduation, her father accompanied her on a train that took her more than 400 miles away home. Once in Cincinnati, she enrolled in the nursing program at Christ Hospital.

“While she was there,” Steve said, “she met my father Charles at a Valentine’s Day dance, and they each had come with someone else.”

Charles grew up in Bowdon, Ga., and in Geraldine on Sand Mountain.While in high school, he earned a basketball scholarship to attend college. Afterward, he was unable to find a job in the two fields he wanted, teaching and coaching. The Depression was underway by then, but he found a job working for International Harvester, a farm-equipment company. While there, he became a certified accountant through his studies at the University of Cincinnati. Afterward, he took advantage of an opportunity to become a dealer at a Western Auto store and moved to Piedmont to start a store there.

“He had other opportunities,” Steve said, “and we don’t know why he chose Piedmont, except he liked that it was between Atlanta and Birmingham.”

By 1953, the couple had settled in Piedmont with their four sons. The youngest was an infant, and the oldest was 12 years old. Life wasn’t easy, though, because Piedmont, at that time, had several stores that sold the same type of merchandise as the Western Auto store. Steve said the family struggled the first year after their move. Still, they persevered, the store began making a profit, and Loftin began working as a nurse. Eventually, she rose to the director of nursing at Piedmont hospital. Even after retirement, she returned to work in Heflin as the director of nursing at a facility there.

Charles eventually sold his business and became active in the civic life of Piedmont. Loftin turned her hobby of making cloth dolls into a business and opened Billie’s Little Darlings, a store in Piedmont that also sold her handmade doll clothing and her handmade dollhouses and furniture.

“Mother was known for always smiling,” Steve said.

Loftin’s husband died in 1989, and she lived alone for 19 years in the big house that she designed in 1970. Even now, her son Jim lives in the home with his wife Gwen.

Loftin’s other two sons are Richard, the oldest, who lives in Nantucket, Mass., with his wife Teena; and Tom, who lives in Cyprus, Tex., with his wife Cheryl. Steve and his wife Diane live in Pelham.

“Mother’s health is good,” Steve said. “She takes only two medications, and she eats well. She lived in the Village at Cherokee County Health for several years and now is in the nursing home facility there. She doesn’t always recognize us, and that hurts, but Jim can get her to giggle a little. Also, whenever she mentions a grandchild’s name, she perks up.”