The Election of a Lifetime: Local Author Nora Percival, 102, Hits the Polls for Early Voting

Published Thursday, October 20, 2016 at 3:50 pm

By Emily Willis

Photos by Jesse Wood

Participating in the electoral process is a civic duty that some take too lightly these days, but not Nora Percival. She recently celebrated her 102nd birthday and was more than excited to hit the polls for early voting Thursday, as she’s waited an entire lifetime to vote for a female presidential candidate.

Percival, a local author and member of the High Country Writers organization, has written three memoirs on her own life experiences. As a Russian immigrant, the stories of her early life serve as a precious reminder that the civic duties in the United States are truly a blessing.

Her first memoir spans the first eight years of her life. Born in 1914, she was only a baby when the first world war began.

“I can remember eating fish for almost every meal, because the crops had all burnt up from lack of water,” Percival explains. “I was born two blocks from the Volga River right in the middle of Russia.”

Nora Percival, 102, participates in curbside voting at the Watauga County Administration Building on King Street Thursday. Photo by Jesse Wood.

Her father eventually led the family out of their home country to exchange Vladimir Lenin’s plans for communism in Russia for a lifetime of freedom and promise abroad.

“We left behind my grandparents and two aunts and their children. I’ve never seen any of them since then,” she said. “My mother died a year after we moved to America, because we had just lived through a terrible famine in Russia; but, I am very blessed to have all these children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, because I started out with no relatives.”

Taught by her mother in her earlier years, Percival pursued higher education after moving to the States. She met her first husband while attending Barnard College in New York City, a liberal arts college for women affiliated with Columbia University.

Her second memoir contains letters written and shared between her and her first husband during the Great Depression. The third and most recent memoir recounts World War II and the societal impacts of war on women in the United States.

Although she’s experienced firsthand some of the world’s most noteworthy historical events over the past century — the Russian Revolution, the Great Depression and two world wars — Percival insists that voting in the 2016 presidential election is perhaps the most remarkable.

“This election is a historical event, because we have a female candidate,” she said. “I am very excited for this moment to be happening during my life!”

Personal experience has taught her to value her right to vote as an important responsibility, and it’s one that she takes very seriously.

“I’ve voted every year since 1936, when I voted for FDR for his second term. I wasn’t old enough to vote for his first term in 1932,” she said. “Since then, I’ve voted every time that we’ve had a national election, except once, because I was having a baby.

“I’m an immigrant. I wasn’t born here, so the right of the ballot means a great deal to me, because the first time I had it was in America. I consider voting a duty. It’s one of the things that gives me the right to live in America, which I much prefer from living in Russia.”

After waiting an entire lifetime to participate in this watershed in American history, Percival continues to take great pride in her citizenship and in duty to her country.

“Aside from there being a female candidate, the voting itself is the most direct feeling of freedom. Deciding who should represent our country is very important,” she said. “It’s our responsibility that we do what we can to be well served as citizens.

“We have all these people growing up now – my grandchildren are becoming of age to vote – and they need to get out and vote! A lot of young people say, ‘I don’t like him,’ or, ‘I don’t want to vote for her,’ or they don’t want to vote at all. If you don’t vote, then you’re just throwing away your civic duty.”

Nora Percival, 102, participates in curbside voting at the Watauga County Administration Building on King Street Thursday. Photo by Jesse Wood.

Nora Percival, 102, participates in curbside voting at the Watauga County Administration Building on King Street Thursday. Photo by Jesse Wood.

Robert Southwick, elections official with the Watauga County Board of Elections, helps Nora Percival cast her vote. Photo by Jesse Wood.

Robert Southwick, elections official with the Watauga County Board of Elections, helps Nora Percival cast her vote. Photo by Jesse Wood.

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