An 85-year-old woman in Upshur County decided she didn't want birthday presents this year because she has everything she needs, so she decided to share her birthday for a good cause.
For the third consecutive year, she has asked for donations to the Upshur County Humane Society in lieu of presents.
"I'm 85! I made it to 85," Evelyn Tonkin said, adding that she was only 4 pounds when she was born. "God's blessed me up to now. I'm hoping for another year."
The Inter-Mountain photo by Melissa Toothman
During her 85th birthday party at the West Virginia Wesleyan College Child Development Center, “Grandma” Evelyn Tonkin stands behind 11 children and their contributions for the Upshur County Humane Society with Michelle Bailey, their private pre-kindergarten teacher on Monday. In the middle row from left to right stands Cooper Antolini, Joey Noltey, Taylor-Ann Parke, Mallory Hughes, Cheridyn Green and Lila Wright. Sitting at the front left of the photo are Andrew Nesbitt, Zachary Foster and Mallory Moss. In front on the right hand side of the donations is Mylo Snyder with Ranger Burgess just behind him.
Tonkin said that if she gets to see her 86th birthday, she will do the same type of collection for the Humane Society. She has four cats and two rabbits at home, all of which are strays or have been adopted. She said she was overwhelmed by the response of the children who decorated a collection box for the items, made hand-drawn birthday cards and banded together to donate a sizable amount of food, toys, blankets, towels and rugs.
"Their response is just absolutely beautiful," Tonkin said. "We have a wonderful team."
Tonkin is known as "Grandma Evelyn" to the children in Michelle Bailey's private pre-kindergarten classroom at the West Virginia Wesleyan College Child Development Center. She told Bailey that all she needed for her birthday this year was hugs from the children and donations for the local Humane Society.
"What do I need? I'm 85. Grandma likes hugs and sharing," Tonkin said. "They really need those things at the shelter, and the children, they just get so excited."
Tonkin is a foster grandmother through the Foster Grandparent Program. Since she was introduced to the Child Development Center 10 years ago, she has connected with the students who have grown to call her "Grandma."
She said she has no biological grandchildren, so "these are my grandchildren.
"I absolutely love these children," Tonkin said.
She got her start in the infant room at the center, but later came to know the children in the 4- to 5-year-old age range like those in Bailey's classroom.
"She still comes into my classroom everyday, which is amazing," Bailey said.
This is Tonkin's first year as "Grandma" for Bailey's class, and it's the first year Bailey is the lead teacher for the pre-kindergarten class. Bailey has been at the Child Development Center for five years.
Tonkin helps the children with their math and helps them to get to sleep at nap time, Bailey said. She also helps Bailey clean tables to set up for lunch, and her helping hand didn't even take a break for her own birthday party. She helped prepare the tables, draw the blinds and serve the cupcakes, cheese puffs, sherbet and refreshments.
Within the week, Tonkin will usually see 13 different children who participate in Bailey's private pre-kindergarten classroom. Eleven of the children were able to attend her birthday party Monday.
"She's adopted our kids," said Daya Wright, the mother of one of the pre-school students.
Bailey said Tonkin probably chose the Humane Society as the charity because of her love of animals.