CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Ernest Cantley enjoys family, friends, his dog, and word puzzles.
Cantley, who turns 100 on Saturday, leads a full and happy life along with his wife of 68 years, Connie. The couple has a tidy house in Nitro, located near the homes of their children.
On a recent day, numerous birthday cards were displayed along the walls of the living room.
"I am getting six and seven cards a day," said Cantley, as his Chihuahua companion Razzy snuggled on his lap. "I like everyone. I think a Christian who wants to live with the Lord should be like that."
Apparently, people also like him. On his 99th birthday, the card total was 132. His church family at the Church of Christ had a big party for him last year, but this time he is opting for a smaller event with family.
He and his wife are the parents of Jennifer Simons and Greg Cantley. Another son, Gerald, died in 1994. They also have three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
But let's start at the beginning of the story of the life of Ernest Cantley who was born March 16, 1913, to Golden and Ellen Cantley at Foster, Boone County.
"I had six brothers," he said. "There were seven of us altogether. Two were older than me. They're all gone but me. I went to a one-room schoolhouse through the eighth grade."
To help the family, he worked as a custodian while still a student and plowed neighbors' fields for $1.50 a day. He also helped with the family garden and dug coal with his father and siblings to heat their home.
He recalls hauling water to men working on the roads in the area as a "water boy" earning 50 cents a day.
He was only 13 when he took part in cattle drives, a job that required walking from Boone County to Ohio.
"They were big cattle drives," he said. "There would be 30 to 35 head, and they'd get boys to drive them. We'd meet someone to put them in a lot for the night. Then we'd start again. One guy rode a horse. A calf wanted to run away. I would chase him, and then I would get to ride the horse for a while and rest."
He later worked with the Civilian Conservation Corps in Louisiana and then moved to Port Clinton, Ohio, where he worked as a foreman pouring concrete floors at a proving ground near Lake Erie. He was in his late 20s when he was drafted into the U.S. Army.
He first went to Scotland, where his company of combat engineers built staging camps for infantry and took food and supplies to soldiers on the front lines. In 1942, he was sent to England to construct marshalling yards at Thatcham, where he met his future wife, Constance Adams.
"I was driving a truck in the Army," he said. "We'd pass her house and I'd stop and talk to her."
Their "dates" consisted of brief times together when they could go for walks. They fell in love but the war would keep them apart for nearly three years. During that time, Connie got letters from her sweetheart. She recalls that the mail was censored and many words were blacked out.