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September 22, 2014

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Role model at age 102: Great-grandmother still going strong

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Leila Navidi

Laura Cisco is overwhelmed by friends and family during her 102nd birthday party at her home, Stewart Pines Senior Apartments in Las Vegas on Friday, June 29, 2012.

Laura Cisco's 102nd Birthday

Laura Cisco celebrates with a toast of sparkling apple cidar with friends and family during her 102nd birthday party at her home, Stewart Pines Senior Apartments in Las Vegas on Friday, June 29, 2012. Launch slideshow »

The red, white and blue balloons tethered to the backs of chairs and table legs made the lounge on the first floor of Stewart Pines Senior Apartments look decked out for an Independence Day party.

But the large group gathered there weren’t craning their necks to see a band playing patriotic music. Instead, everyone was waiting for birthday girl Laura Cisco.

“She’s turning 102,” said 6-year-old Demileiana Bolden, who walked Cisco from her apartment into the banquet area. “I know how to count to 102, but it’s a lot of numbers.”

Yes, it’s a lot of numbers. But those numbers don’t hold back Cisco, who stands about as tall as her young escort.

“She won’t let me do anything,” said Vanquisha McKie, Cisco’s personal care assistant. “The only time she lets me do my job description is when her arthritis is acting up.”

Arthritis may be a bit of an obstacle for the centenarian, but it doesn’t keep her from spending time with her five great-grandchildren and six great-great-grandchildren — or even from pursuing education for herself and others.

Cisco recently enrolled in a Spanish class at a community college and has offered to give piano lessons to children in her church, including Demileiana.

Born in the Deep South, Cisco spent her childhood in a society where no one had telephones, where very few drove cars and where black people like her had to drink from water fountains separate from white people.

“I was born in the country, 40 miles outside of Jackson, Miss.,” Cisco said. “And I don’t regret being brought up where I was. But if you were black, you had to stay in your place.”

Cisco was one of six children and was raised on her family’s farm, where they grew corn and cotton and raised chickens and cows.

“My grandfather bought 600 acres of land when he got out of slavery,” Cisco said. “He bought 600 acres for $6 an acre.”

When Cisco was in her teens, she went to work at the home of a local police chief. She cooked, cleaned and cared for the family’s children seven days a week.

“I came in at 7 in the morning and worked until 5:30 at night,” she said.

Despite the long hours, her weekly pay was slim.

“I got $2 and a quarter,” Cisco said.

That’s less than a penny an hour.

However, low pay wasn’t Cisco’s main worry. Racism and the Ku Klux Klan were prevalent across Mississippi, and Cisco saw the Klan’s inner workings up close.

“On Thursdays, I had to stay until 10 at night because Thursday nights the Ku Klux Klan would come to the police chief’s house,” Cisco said. “They’d be in a room, but I’d pull up close and lean my ear towards the door so I could hear them.”

After meeting people from all walks of life and spending more than eight decades in the thick Southern humidity, Cisco followed her daughter west to Las Vegas, and this drier and even hotter city became home.

“Las Vegas is wonderful. I don’t have a single complaint,” Cisco said. “When I came here, people didn’t see black or white; they just saw the person.”

Cisco said she has always felt welcomed, appreciated and respected in Nevada. She has never “been rejected from any stores or turned away by any people.”

She has been embracing the mentality of the city and hopes to continue to spread this inclusive feeling across her community.

“Now I’m determined to be an example for all other women — black, white, Spanish, whatever,” Cisco said. “I want to show that we are all humans and that’s all that matters.”

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  1. Hope she lives to be 202. She is so wise and has a lot to teach yet. Bless her heart. I feel as she does. This old desert had a bad start but certainly has some good people in it.