If you count in the Chinese fashion, Anne Pickens Collins is 100 years old. Imagine all that she has seen in her life, the political forays she has witnessed, the fashion attire of women through the ages. She saw the telephone become a common household object, and she drove a Cadillac that had automatic transmission. It was truly a far cry from a mule-drawn wagon in Pickens.
Through the determination of her mother, Iola, she earned a degree in journalism, when other women were judged on the quality of their cornbread. After graduation from Furman, she started working for a Columbia newspaper, where she honed her gift of writing and let her active mind wander into all of the roads and byways of life. Her curiosity took her into the dark corners of fact, fiction, make believe and pure history. She was inspired, determined and believed in telling it all.
Anne never needed a mentor. She was her own person, she did what she knew had to be done and she put together, organized and published seven books on the history of Chester County and the great folks who have lived here. She was a braggart about this place that hired her husband, Joe, to teach high schoolers to punt, catch and pass. She was brave and industrious when the family needed money to exist. This educated, professional woman sewed hems in a factory and, while the needle was working, Miss Anne was planning.
When my first story ran in The Chester County Herald, Anne congratulated me and said it was a sweet story, never saying it was well written. Then, she was not a woman to give false promise. "I think," she said, "it is wonderful that you are beginning a new career and I wish you much luck. If you need help, just say my name." We sang together: "Friendship, friendship, it's a lovely blend ship. When other friendships have been forgot, ours will still be hot." It has remained that temperature for 10 years.
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To me, that was an open door and I called and called. In fact, up until last year, I was still pumping Anne Collins for information on the "how to" of writing for a newspaper, and she still gave sound and honest advice.
When I was drowning in the history of Fishing Creek, Anne was called. When I wanted to know about the scouts of the Revolution, namely the McKeown boys, Anne's vast knowledge was again put through the wringer, how and where did they function and what was the benefit of their exploits. She either knew the answer or could tell me where to find it. She was a living repository of information and abundantly generous with the ins and outs of Chester County history and the people who made it possible. Quite simply, the good Lord stood lovingly in my corner when I met Anne Collins.
Last Saturday, Jan. 10, that huge family gathered at the Chester County Nursing Center to celebrate the 99th birthday of this great lady. They came "hats in hand" to pay homage to a woman who has given much to this place and the folks who live here. She has touched lives from the rich to the poor, to the educated, to the ones who cannot read or write. They all have talked to her, known about her or heard her stories read and re-read through the years. My friend Gene De Graffenreid once said to me, "I don't know anything about where my name came from."
"Sit still, brother," I said, and ran to get "A Goodly Heritage" and read to him the history of that family. There you are, I continued, however you got the name, Anne Collins has let you know that they cut quite a swath in this place. So you have a royal identity; they were counts, and they made our already grand history grander.
She was the mother to a family that gladly immersed themselves in immense social and religious undertakings. They are doctors, lawyers, artists, architects, writers and parents. They crown the story of her life. Each and every one of them has contributed to the importance of the place where they live. All of their actions reflect the teaching of Anne and Joe Collins, following a simple code: Do good for the community, it is the will of God.
Anne Pickens Collins started teaching Sunday school when she was 16 years old and continued at the Bethel Methodist Church until time stopped working in her favor. She founded The Little Theatre, the Arts Council of Chester County, along with a myriad of other organizations that benefit the public.
Greg Delaney honored her with the Governors Award for Citizenship. It was an outstanding moment in her life, for it is an honor that is only given to one person a year. Anne was the honoree simply because she had spent a major amount of her years in Chester, giving to the people immeasurable pride in their history and making it possible to offer them cultural advantages in their everyday life.
When we think of her, remember her undertakings or peruse one of her books. Think sweetly and offer a large thank you, for without them, we would be sadly lacking vital information about our families and ourselves.
The Collins family consists of 59 members, six children, 15 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren, two daughters-in-laws law, two sons-in-law, and 12 each of granddaughters- and grandsons-in-law.
Anne Pickens Collins has, with her determination, honored this place where we live, and we, all the citizens, should honor her with sincere accolades, for she has made us shine in the light of Southern history.