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In Memory Of Our Poets

Anita Mitchell Caldwell (1928-1930 Home Economics & English)

DURHAM - Anita Mitchell Caldwell, a resident of Durham, died Sunday night at Hillcrest Convalescent Center on her 103rd birthday.

She was born April 24, 1908, in Letohatchee, Ala., the daughter of James Butler Mitchell and Wilmer Rogers Mitchell. She was preceded in death by her loving husband, Herschel Amos Caldwell Sr. She is survived by her devoted and loving children, Herschel A. Caldwell and wife, Mary John of Durham and Carol Caldwell Venters of Hubert. Other survivors include her four beloved grandchildren, Lara Venters Raban and husband, Gerry, of Albuquerque, N.M.; Anita Gayle Venters Swayne and husband, David, of Winston-Salem; Lee Wade Caldwell and James Best Caldwell, both of Wilmington; five great-grandchildren, Karl, Lindsay and Billy Raban and Katie and Bradley Swayne.

Anita lived most of her life in Durham. She was educated in Alabama and was a graduate of the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. She was a member or former member of Duke Memorial United Methodist Church, Hope Valley Country Club, a sustaining member of The Durham Junior League, Hope Valley Garden Club, The Up To Date Club and Alpha Omega Sorority. Her favorite pastime was playing bridge with her dear friends and working in her yard. She was a loyal Duke Football fan, only missing two home games in 67 years.

The family would like to extend heartfelt thanks to the staff at Hillcrest for their kind and compassionate care.

A private graveside service will be held Wednesday, April 27, at 1 p.m. at Maplewood Cemetery followed by a memorial service at 2 p.m. at Duke Memorial United Methodist Church, 504 West Chapel Hill St. in Durham. The Rev. Ginger Thomas will officiate.

Visitation and a reception will be held following the memorial service Wednesday at Whitford Hall at the church.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to The Good Samaritan Fund, c/o Duke Memorial United Methodist Church, 504 W. Chapel Hill St., Durham, NC 27701, or to The Discretionary Fund, c/o Father Bert Eaton, St. Peters by the Sea, P.O. Box 337, Swansboro, NC 28584.

Howerton & Bryan Funeral Home is assisting the Caldwell family. Online condolences may be submitted to howertonbryan.com and select obituaries.  

Published in Jacksonville Daily News from April 26 to April 29, 2011

Since 1933, Durham's Anita Caldwell, 101, hasn't missed a Duke football home game

The Herald Sun
By Lewis Bowling
Special to The Herald-Sun

Way back on April 24 of 1908, a little girl was born in the small town of Letohatchee, Ala. Anita was her name, and she grew up to be a beautiful young lady. She made many a young man's heart flutter during her days as a University of Alabama student from 1924 to 1928. Just recently in 2009, at the age of 101, Anita Mitchell Caldwell sat in her Durham home and recalled her years at the Capstone.

Anita and her two sisters all graduated from the University of Alabama, and her father, J.B. Mitchell, was a graduate of Alabama's arch rival, Auburn University, of all places. After graduating from Prattville High School in Alabama in 1924, there was no question for Anita -- she wanted to follow older sister Louise to Tuscaloosa and Alabama.

A few years later, younger sister Annie Laurie would follow Anita. Soon after arriving on campus, a Sigma Chi fraternity member, Bob Adams, asked Anita to accompany him to a dinner. While there, Anita caught the eye of one of Bob's friends, Herschel Caldwell. Herschel told a friend, "I sure would like to meet that girl with those pretty brown eyes."

Well, after being told of Herschel's interest, Anita mentioned to a lady friend of hers that she wasn't sure, as she did not know a thing about Herschel. Her friend replied, "Anita! Look at him, he's cute, the vice president of the student body, and is a star football player for the national champion Crimson Tide. What more do you need to know?" Herschel had gained some national acclaim after kicking the extra point that gave Alabama its second straight national championship in the 1927 Rose Bowl, playing for the legendary coach Wallace Wade at Alabama before he shocked the football world and moved to Duke.

Anita agreed to talk to young Herschel, and they fell in love.

Anita and Herschel had to be careful, because Coach Wade, notoriously tough, frowned upon his players having girlfriends. Once, while walking and holding hands near the football office, Coach Wade stepped out, and according to Anita, "Herschel dropped my hand like a hotcake."

During her student days, two or three female students were asked to be sponsors for each home football game, and Anita was chosen several times. The sponsor would sit on the Crimson Tide's bench during games and be introduced to the crowd during halftime. The ladies would be escorted on the field while holding huge bouquets of chrysanthemums.

George Denny was then the University of Alabama president, and Anita recalls him well. He always was seen around campus with a coat and tie, never casually dressed. "Dr. Denny was a very stern man, he really meant what he said" Anita recalls. "But he was also as friendly as could be, and always put the students first. I remember back then students' grades would be sent home to the parents. I still have one of mine that he signed 'a fine young lady'. George H. Denny."

When asked what female students did in Tuscaloosa after going to class and studying all day, Anita replied, "We dated!" There were a lot more men on campus than women at the time, so the ladies had many options. The "boys," as Anita calls them; mostly drove beat up old Model T Fords, known around campus as "Tin Lizzies." Girls were not allowed to ride in a car with a boy when going out of town. Also, a male could invite a female to dinner on campus only on Sundays.

In 1928, Anita graduated with double majors in home economics and English. By this time, Herschel was the head football coach at Sidney Lanier High School in Montgomery, Ala., where he won a state championship in 1928. Anita started teaching at Sidney Lanier after graduation and later taught at Montgomery Middle School. In 1930, Wallace Wade accepted the head coaching position at Duke University, and hired Herschel to be his assistant.

Coach Wade had a year left on his contract, so stayed through the 1930 season. But he sent Herschel to Durham to start laying the groundwork for when he arrived in 1931. While living in Durham in 1930, Herschel kept driving back to Alabama every chance he got to see Anita. Coach Wade got a little worried that Herschel wasn't staying in Durham enough, and went to see Anita one day. She recalls, "One day Coach Wade showed up and said to me, 'Now you're not giving Herschel the run around, are you? I think you two should get married.' I thought that sure took some nerve for him to say that!"

Coach Wade went on to win Alabama's third national title in 1930, and went to Duke and established the Blue Devils as a national power. Anita and Herschel got married in 1933, and Herschel is now enshrined in the Duke Sports Hall of Fame after a 42-year coaching career.

Anita Caldwell has lived in Durham since 1933, but still remembers fondly her first 25 years living in Alabama. To say she is now an avid Duke football supporter would be an understatement. She has not missed a Duke home game since 1933, a period of 76 years. Every Saturday this fall when Duke is home, this absolutely charming lady, who is one of the oldest living University of Alabama graduates, will be in her special press box seat cheering hard.

She is thrilled about the Blue Devils' improvement in 2009 with David Cutcliffe, another University of Alabama graduate, coaching Duke. "I always will be a fan of the Alabama and Duke boys," Anita says. "They have been a big part of my life all these years."

This article appeared in the Alabama Alumni Magazine and is reprinted with permission. Lewis Bowling writes a fitness column for the Healthy Living page of The Herald-Sun.