Centenarian dances her way through the decades

Published 7:02 am Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Like all guests of honor, she was fashionably late Saturday night. When she arrived, she made a grand entrance, and as a band played hopping rock ‘n’ roll, she danced her way through the cheering crowd of family and friends to a velvet-covered throne.

This guest of honor was no royal, idol or Hollywood star, however. She was someone who’d accomplished something more wonderful and rare than fame. She made it to 100.

Gertie Chenevert McMurray, now of Carriere but a citizen of the world, hit the century mark on Sept. 8. On Sept. 24, her friends and family gathered at El Mariachi in Picayune to help her celebrate the milestone.

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Hanging from a banner of photographs is “Gertie’s bucket list,” with five things she’d checked off:


  1. Live life to the fullest.
  2. Get married a few times.
  3. Travel whenever and wherever.
  4. Be a contestant on “The Price is Right.”
  5. Dance, dance and dance some more.


Next to the list, there’s a photograph of the woman her friends call “Miss Gertie,” having “come on down” and guessing the price of what Bob Barker was motioning toward on the famed game show.

Along the walls at the party in her honor were pictures of her dancing, on cruise ships, in ballrooms, at nightclubs. But you don’t need to see pictures to know Miss Gertie dances. She’s a regular at Picayune’s Solid Gold Music Barn.

Her daughter, Dorothy Savoie of Carriere, said her mother never stops dancing.

Savoie described her mother’s life, which began as a child of sharecroppers in Pointe Coupee Parish northeast of Baton Rouge.


Gertie Chenevert was born in 1916 to Clair Sr. and Clea Jarreau Chenevert in New Roads, La. She was the fifth of seven children.

During World War II, she joined the tide of women who joined the workforce when men went overseas to fight. She was working at the shipyards when she got the call to became a conductor on the famed New Orleans streetcar system. There, she collected fares, gave change and kept the car clean before going home to tend to her family.

The fare at the time was 7 cents, Savoie said.

Miss Gertie is a member of the Rosie the Riveter Association.

Centenarians, or people who live to 100 years and beyond, are an exclusive group. In the U.S., just 55,000 people, or 0.02 percent of the population, are 100 or older, according to the Census Bureau.

Living that long, one collects a lot of heartache along with the joy. Miss Gertie has outlived her parents, her six siblings, five husbands and two of her three children.

She moved to Pearl River County about a decade ago with a gentleman friend, who later passed on, Savoie said. Now she lives at In Loving Arms independent living in Carriere, and spends time with her daughter, grandchildren, great-grand children and a great-great-granddaughter.

When asked for advice to the younger generations, Miss Gertie is succinct.

“Keep dancing,” Miss Gertie said. “See as much as you can; do as much as you want; have fun, because things happen, and you can’t do a thing about it.”

Gertie Chenevert McMurray talks with descendant Sarai Goode at her party.

Gertie Chenevert McMurray talks with descendant Sarai Goode at her party.