Johanna Elenora Fernald celebrates 100th birth anniversary in adopted homeland
Johanna Elenora Fernald
Johanna Elenora Fernald

AT 16 years old, following the death of her mother, Johanna Elenora Fernald left the Dutch-speaking country of Suriname with several ‘excursioners’ on a boat trip to Guyana, to stay with her younger siblings in Georgetown.

Earlier, her maternal grandmother, Celes Austin, had brought to these shores, the three youngest of eight siblings, Percy, Olga and Shanae, after their mother’s death. The children settled in Georgetown.

Fernald was the third child born on January 29, 1922 to Dutch nationals, Mary Goodchild and Constant Fernald. Her formative years were spent in Paramaribo, where she acquired her primary and secondary school education.

But in a quest to be reunited with her younger siblings, the then teenager used an excuse to join a boat excursion (a trip/tour) to Guyana.  After her arrival, she stayed with her grandmother and siblings.

When she was 19, she visited New Amsterdam to attend a ball at the New Amsterdam Town Hall and there she was introduced to Claude Linden Mc Kenzie, known as “Fearless Claude” and within months, the couple were married by Rev Halloway at Mission Chapel Congregational Church, which was the first church to open its doors to slaves in 1819.

Claude Mc Kenzie was an amateur boxer and captained boats including the Motor Vessel Torani, along the Berbice River. Due to the period of time spent on the waterways, the couple decided to move to Kwakwani, where the young Johanna practised her entrepreneurial skills.

She opened a shop and sold all essential items to residents of the riverain community.

Additionally, she developed the craft of sewing, and the art of baking, to supplement the income of her husband, so as to supply the needs of their six children.

She was so proficient at her job that she designed and sewed her daughters’ wedding gowns and also baked their wedding cakes.

Following her husband’s retirement, the couple moved to Georgetown where her husband worked at the La Penitence Wharf. It was during this period he died due to unnatural conditions.

Despite the tragedy, life had to go on. So, “Cousin Yopy” as she was fondly called, went to the United States of America, to spend time with one of her daughters there.

Whilst there, she was diagnosed and received treatment for diabetes. At the age of 83, the condition took a toll on her health. But she was determined to conquer the ailment and on her return to Guyana, she made some adjustment to her medication. Months later, diabetes was no longer a threat to her life.

In recent years, she has adapted to eat whatever is provided as she has no preferences.

“I love to eat well,” she giggled, adding: “I love a savoury chicken, pork, ice cream and black cake, along with other niceties.”

She believes that eating well during one’s youthful age is the secret to long life. And when asked about her life expectancy, she replied: “I gon live long. One hundred and ten or so.”

Johanna Elenora Fernald McKenzie currently lives with her daughter Joy at Tucber Park, New Amsterdam. She is blessed with her children, countless grandchildren, numberless great grandchildren, and scores of great, great, grandchildren.

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