Friends and family surrounded Marilla “Billie” Rogers Sweet at the First Church of Christ Congregational in Milford Saturday, March 9, to celebrate her approaching 100th birthday.
Billie was born Friday, March 21, 1919, the second youngest child of Ernest Pope Rogers and Beatrice Nettleton. She and her siblings — Kenneth, Beatrice, Ray and Ernest, were all raised in Milford.
Her sister, Bernice Rogers, who is 102 and living in Bethany, was not at the party because she didn’t want to take the limelight away from her little sister’s big day. But the two sisters still get together to enjoy each other’s company and share their memories.
“My mother and her relatives date extremely far back in Milford, probably back five or six generations at least,” said Billie’s son, Chuck Sweet. “She is the oldest active member of the Congregational Church and was recently crowned queen at the Milford High School All Class Reunion as the oldest attending student.”
Billie was born in a farmhouse on Wheelers Farms Road in Milford.
“I grew up on the family farm,” she said. “I helped my father work in the fields and to sell vegetables, and attended a one- room schoolhouse near my farm. Life was tough, no heat other than fireplaces, no indoor plumbing for many years.
“Milford was a great town to grow up in,” Billie continued. “Went to the beach a lot and my grandfather owned many cottages along the beach.”
Billie attended a one-room schoolhouse and then Central Grammar School and finally Milford High School, graduating in 1936.
“Mostly I remember Milford as a quiet little shoreline town, with friendly shops and great people that were always willing to lend a hand to those in need,” she said. “My favorite thing about Milford was its locality to the beach and Charles Island. It was so great to grow up in a small shoreline community.”
At 22, Billie married Howard Albert Sweet, whom she met at Milford High School. They married Nov. 3, 1941, and had two children, Heather and Chuck. Today, there are eight grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild. Howard Sweet died in 1990.
Before retiring in 2000, Billie worked as a telephone operator, and then as a steel salesperson with both Edgecomb Steel and Chapin and Bangs Steel.
“She was one of the first women in the business, and she didn’t retire until well into her 70s,” said her niece Katrina Rogers in an email.
Billie has been a lifetime member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Milford First Church of Christ Congregational, and “infamous for hosting memorable parties for friends and family,” reads a proclamation from Mayor Ben Blake in honor of her 100th birthday. “She has also enjoyed reading, reciting poetry, playing board games and golf, and being with her family.”
Today Billie lives at the Hearth at Tuxis Pond, a retirement community in Madison; prior to that she lived with her son.
Her son said another family member takes Billie to visit with her sister, Bernice, every couple of months.
Bernice is in remarkably good health, “thanks to good living and outstanding genetics,” family said in a 2016 Milford Mirror article. Her and Billie’s father, Ernest, farmed the land on Wheelers Farm Road up to the day of his death in May 1978 when he was 95.
The secret to long life, Billie said, is eating three balanced meals a day and taking what life throws at you in stride.
“I am thankful to God for allowing me to live a long, blessed, enjoyable life,” Billie said.