ANDERSON — It was a quiet, sunbathed afternoon when Avanelle Hattery walked into Becky’s Happy Mule Café with her niece, Sherry Minton, and Sherry’s husband, Terry.
Nothing seemed special inside the cozy cafe as a handful of other patrons enjoyed their food.
But for Hattery, the afternoon lunch celebrated a unique occasion, her 101st birthday. Despite any attempts she may have had to keep the afternoon low-key, a few others took notice.
“I think it's very fun,” said Becky Donohue, owner of Becky’s Happy Mule. “She looks amazing and beautiful.”
Everyone present noted that Hattery walked into the restaurant and looked many years younger than 101.
“What’s most interesting is when you are sitting and talking to her,” Terry Minton said. “She has a sparkle in her eye that most older people don’t have.”
Donahue was prepared for the occasion with a candle shaped like a number 1 that she placed on a piece of pie and served to Hattery at the end of her meal.
Despite turning 101, the 1 also holds significance for Hattery. Her great-great-nephew, Eli, is turning 1 this year, and Hattery jokingly says she is starting over with him at age 1, even though she has 100 years on the youngster.
The pie and candle were not the only surprises. Hattery’s meal ended up being free thanks to a nearby patron who overheard what was going on and paid for the trio’s meals before he left.
Hattery was born on July 13, 1912.
She operated six restaurants in Madison County with her husband, Halford Hattery, who died in 1991. Halford manned the grill while Avanelle tackled the baking duties, and everything the two cooked was made from scratch.
“Top Hat was my favorite (restaurant),” Hattery said. “There was only one other cafeteria at the time with a buffet. That is something I have seen grow over the years.”
Over the 40 years Hattery was in the restaurant business, all of her food was homemade. That simply isn’t the case at most restaurants today, she said.
“Today everything is more or less fast food,” Hattery said. “It used to be a lot of home-cooked foods. We knew just about all of our customers by first name, and the restaurants were family-oriented.” That is one reason why Hattery celebrated her birthday at Becky’s Happy Mule.
“She enjoyed being in the small, family-type restaurant and visiting with the owner and waitresses,” Sherry Minton said. “That is how her restaurants were.” The short-order type cafe which only serves breakfast and lunch was the perfect place for Hattery to enjoy a breaded tenderloin sandwich – an Indiana favorite.
One of Hattery’s fondest memories comes from when she and her husband ran Victory Cafe next to the old Delco Remy factory. The factory’s cafeteria was closed on the weekend and so she and her husband would hand sandwiches, French fries, and sodas through the fence to the workers. Then, Avanelle would buy coffee and doughnuts for the night-shift workers.
The Hatterys' restaurants ranged from the buffet-style cafeteria, Top Hat, to smaller cafes like The Copper Skillet and Victory Cafe.
Although she does not drive, Hattery has remained active, often eating at local short-order style cafes and diners. She is also a member of the Red Hatters, a social club for ladies that is distinguishable by members’ red and purple clothing and jewelry. “She is very upbeat and encouraging,” Terry Minton said. “You can’t go see her without coming away feeling good.”
Hattery had two daughters, Madelyn (Matt) Conley and the late Marsha Pettigrew. She has four grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.