UCA alumna celebrates her 100th birthday

When she graduated from Arkansas State Teachers College in 1944, Gertrude Jeanne (Harris) Fleming had plans to marry her high school sweetheart, J.E. “Buddy” Fleming, and become a mother and homemaker. 

“She got a degree in home economics and her plan was to be a housewife. She wanted to better understand cooking and housekeeping,” her daughter Anna Belle (Fleming) Akers said. “That was not uncommon for many young women at that time.”

Fleming traveled to Conway from Marked Tree on a train to attend ASTC. Akers remembers growing up and hearing about her mother’s college experience. 

“She told me they had to live in a communal setting as a part of the home economics program – to practice keeping house,” Akers said. “She was also a member of the Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority. She has very fond memories of being a student.” 

Jeanne Fleming side by side of her in college and age 100

Jeanne Fleming

Fleming still has all her yearbooks from her time at ASTC and has returned to the campus occasionally over the years. She marvels at the changes and recognizes all the older buildings. 

Fleming did end up marrying her sweetheart when she graduated, but she didn’t stay home. For six months, the couple was stationed at Ellington Field in Texas where Buddy Fleming was in the army waiting for deployment to Europe during World War II. When the war was over, the Flemings moved back to Arkansas. 

She became a teacher in the Marked Tree School District. She taught everything from elementary general education to junior high science. She also taught history and English. About 16 years into her career, Fleming began teaching home economics and life skills. She was also the sponsor of the Future Teachers of America, the Thespian Society and organized and directed the annual Drama Festival in the 1960s.

She taught both her children and most people in Marked Tree, including the recipient of the University of Central Arkansas 2022 Distinguished Alumni award, Woodrow “Woody” Cummins Jr.

“As a teacher for 38 years, she had a great influence on many lives,” Akers said. “Her common sense attitude and willingness to share her knowledge with her students was apparent to everyone who knew her. She was a mentor to many teachers as well, and showed them the art of class control and management of time.”

Akers said her mother always went above and beyond when it came to teaching and managing her home. In addition to Akers, Fleming has a son, Jimmy, five grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild. 

“My father died in 1973, so she has been a widow for a very long time,” Akers said. “Daddy took care of a lot but she learned to manage everything he used to do.”

Akers followed in her mother’s footsteps. After high school, she went to Arkansas State University and finished at the University of Alaska. Her husband was in the military, so when he went to Vietnam, she went back to Marked Tree where she taught English in the same school as Fleming.

Jeanne Fleming surrounded by her family on her 100th birthday.

Jeanne Fleming surrounded by her family on her 100th birthday.

“She told me, ‘Never let them see you sweat,’” Akers said. She has since retired from teaching after 28 years. 

Fleming was an active member of the Woman’s Progressive Club in Marked Tree, Beta Sigma Phi and Delta Kappa Gamma. She was an avid bridge player and was part of a bridge club for more than 40 years. She remains an avid reader and attributes her sound mind at her age to her love of reading. 

Fleming turned 100 in June, and her family held a big party at the First Methodist Church in Marked Tree. All the grandchildren helped to decorate the hall with flowers. Fleming was surprised and filled with gratitude at the number of people who showed up. She even received a bear mug and a note from her alma mater. 

Akers wanted to create a book with 100 memories and good wishes from Fleming’s loved ones. 

“But we ended up with 101!” Akers said.