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Russellville mayor proclaims Leila Norris Day in honor of hundredth birthday

“I never expected anything like this.”

Leila Norris’ eyes shone, and a wide smile never left her face, during a special ceremony at Russellville City Hall Monday – her hundredth birthday.

“In celebration of her contributions to the city of Russellville,” Mayor David Grissom presented Norris with a proclamation naming Feb. 8, 2016, Leila Norris Day in the City of Russellville. He also presented Norris a Key to the City – an honor bestowed only once before by Grissom, to the governor of Alabama.

“You’re right up there with the governor,” Grissom said.

Norris was born in 1916 in Prattville. She and her family moved to Port Arthur, Texas, when she was still a child. After her mother got tuberculosis and was sent to Colorado to a sanitarium, Norris and her five siblings were shipped off to live with different relatives – she lived with Aunt Fannie and Uncle Frank in Hope Hull for two years.

It was in Searcy, Ark., at Harding College, that she met Billy Norris, whom she soon married, Oct. 8, 1936. They moved to Knoxville, Tenn., where Billy Norris served as a preacher; his call to preach led them to several locations before eventually bringing them back to Russellville – his hometown – in 1955.

The Norrises had four children: Bunny, Benji, Tim and Lanny.

Upon returning to Russellville, the Norrises efforts were two-fold: one, running the King Frosty, northwest Alabama’s first soft-serve ice cream place, which was also famous for its hotdogs; and two running Norris Printing Company. Leila Norris was heavily involved in both.

She remembers one customer to the ice cream shop who told her to just make him the biggest ice cream cone she could. She piled up scoop after scoop. “He finally said, ‘Whoa,’” she remembered, smiling.

Norris Printing Company sold books and office supplies. Norris handled all composition for the printing company and assisted in publishing the “Gospel Guide,” an international Bible-based publication.

Norris’ advice for living a good life boils down to one thing: “stay with the Bible.”

“It’s nothing I’ve done that has let me live this long,” Norris said. “They were good years, I’ll tell ya … I had a good husband, and I tried to be a good wife. What could you add to that? I don’t know.”

Norris has nine grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren.