WASHINGTON - Ella Clarke Nuite loves to work, and this 100-year-old Southern belle came to the capital this week to be honored for her persistence.
Experience Works, a training and employment service for older workers, named the Hephzibah resident America's Oldest Worker of 2004. Experience Works is recognizing her and 52 other senior workers to represent each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico this week as part of its Prime Time Awards Program.
The first woman and the first Southerner to win since the organization began giving the award in 1998, Ms. Nuite is the owner and operator of Windsor Spring Water Co., which bottles and sells spring water.
Ms. Nuite doesn't hear well but otherwise is in good health. The mother of four, grandmother of eight and great-grandmother of eight more said she has been blessed with good health and a loving family.
"My parents told me to work was a privilege and responsibility," she said. "Idleness was the devil's workshop, so I have kept myself busy."
Eileen Walsh, the president of Experience Works, said Ms. Nuite and other older workers like her are "inspirational and positive influences" for younger workers.
"We have long recognized the valuable contributions that older citizens have made and are continuing to make to our businesses, communities and our nation," she said. "Ability truly is ageless."
Mason Bishop, the deputy assistant secretary of labor, said Ms. Nuite had a varied career before inheriting the water company from her mother.
"She held a number of positions," he said, "including census taker, postmistress and dietician and dining manager for a conference center."
Ms. Nuite worked alone at the company until she was 80. Her grandson works with her now, but she handles bookkeeping, sells water and oversees water testing. In addition to her duties at the water company, Ms. Nuite wakes up at 5 a.m. to eat a hot breakfast and feed her chickens and goats.
Charlotte Kitchen, 60, and Irene Lofton, 76, two of Ms. Nuite's daughters, came with her to Washington. The daughters, both retired and living near Columbia, said they are proud of their mother's work ethic.
"We take our vitamins every morning to keep up with her," Ms. Lofton said with a laugh.
The next item on Ms. Nuite's agenda will be to oversee the building of an alcoholic treatment center on land she donated to her church. She wants the center to be directed by a recovering alcoholic, and she wants patients to help build cabins to stay in.
"If she were a little younger, she'd help build the cabins," Ms. Lofton said.
Ms. Kitchen said her mother's determination still surprises her.
"She was doing her own plumbing until a few years ago," Ms. Kitchen said. "At 90, she was up on the roof fixing it."
Ms. Nuite said she has learned a thing or two during her century of experience, and shared advice with younger workers.
"Always keep interested in your job because your interest is your satisfaction and joy," she said. "Be prompt in all occasions. Do your duty - think not only of payday but what you contributed to your boss."