ST. GEORGE — With tabletops adorned with vases of red roses and bouquets of pink, white and red balloons, friends and family gathered at the Rim Rock Conference Room inside the Courtyard Marriott on River Road Saturday afternoon to celebrate St. George native Cornelia Ashby Nisson’s 100th birthday.
Over birthday cake and fruit punch her daughters, Michelle Ashby Fleming and Emilee Marie Ivey, and son Willard Ashby Nisson reminisced and shared stories of Cornelia’s life over a century as she sat dressed in a turquoise dress and smiled. Her blue eyes were yet lively at the ripe age of 100.
“It’s kind of an unexpected delightful feeling to see my mom turn 100,” Fleming said.
Born in St. George on July 8, 1914, just 20 days before World War I began, Cornelia grew up on Tabernacle Street. Her mother, Emma Brooks Ashby, tended to her and her two brothers Les and Nat and two sisters Rose and Josephine.
Her father, Robert Turner Ashby, owned the first pool table in St. George in the 1920s. He ran a pool hall down below where the Dixie Arrowhead Hotel used to be, between Main Street and 100 East on Tabernacle Street. Robert Turner Ashby sold tobacco, candy and games of pool, and always made Cornelia work for her candy. Previous to owning the pool hall her father was a miner for the St. George Apex Mine.
At 14-years-old she worked as a waitress at the Big Hand Café, now the home of George’s Corner on Main Street and St. George Boulevard, earning “nickels and dimes” just a few years before the beginning of the Great Depression. Her uncle George Brooks owned the Big Hand Café at the time and allowed her to work young.
“She was grateful for the work,” Ivey said.
She attended Dixie Elementary School until sixth grade, Woodward from seventh to 10th grades and then finished at Dixie Normal School, now Dixie State University during the Great Depression. In 1934, Cornelia Ashby became a teacher for the Rockville Schoolhouse.
Cornelia married Antone W. Nisson on June 3, 1939, at the St. George Temple; and, while he was serving in World War II and the Korean war, she was one of the women in the workforce assembling aviation equipment.
“While Antone was in the war she lived next to Miss Emmi who had a cat,” Fleming said. “She would put leftover scraps of meatloaf for the cat out. One day she was putting the meatloaf out and Miss Emmi saw her and introduced herself. Then she said, ‘oh you’re that nice lady that makes that wonderful meatloaf.’ After that, my mom started leaving two portions, one for the cat, and one for Miss Emmi. That’s just how she is.”
Later Antone Nisson studied at Brigham Young University and became a dentist and the two moved to Arcadia, California, before returning the Bloomington Hills suburb of St. George to retire. Through the years, Cornelia and Antone Nisson traveled the world and visited places such as Hawaii, Saudi Arabia, Europe and Russia.
During the ’80s, Cornelia Nisson and some of her girlfriends volunteered at Dixie Regional Medical Center and were known as the “Pink Ladies.”
Even at 100 years old, Cornelia loves to read, particularly the newspaper, church news and magazines. She loves to know what’s going on around town and visit with her family.
“Her key to longevity would be clean-living and good food,” her daughter Fleming said. “She never eats fast food. She doesn’t look her age at all. She’s never dyed her hair and it’s just beginning to show some grey.”
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