The Times West Virginian

December 2, 2013

At 105 years old, Zelma Fraley is source of inspiration to many

By Kaylyn Christopher
Times West Virginian

BARRACKVILLE — Over the past 105 years, Zelma Fraley has made countless memories she has been able to share.

Whether it’s a story about the first time she used a telephone or the first time she saw a car, Fraley remembers the moments with clarity.

“We could fill a book with stories,” Zelma’s daughter, Gypsy Conaway, said.

Though she was born and raised in Preston County, Fraley had lived in Barrackville since 1949 until last year when she began living at Fitzwater’s Gracious Living in Fairmont.

Fraley began her life in Barrackville when her husband was transferred to the Bethlehem Steel mine.

“They lived in a mining camp close to the mine,” Fraley’s grandson, Dan Conaway, said. “Every neighbor worked at the coal mine.”

A homemaker, Fraley soon became well known throughout the community.

“To everybody in Barrackville, she’s ‘Nanny Fraley,’” Gypsy said.

According to Dan, Nanny Fraley’s house was the place to go when he and his friends were in search of a good meal.

“Her house was always a good place to eat,” he said. “After basketball practice, that’s where we’d always go.”

And when Conaway went on to work at the mines, Fraley’s baking skills continued to please his co-workers.

“She was an excellent cook,” Conaway said. “I used to take her pies to the mine, and I had those guys eating out of my hand. I’d give them a piece of apple pie or blackberry pie. They loved it.”

Gypsy said Fraley was cooking Thanksgiving dinner until the age of 100 and that she lived in her residence in Barrackville until the age of 104.

Fraley could even be spotted driving down the streets of Barrackville until the age of 101.

During her time in Barrackville, Fraley volunteered at Fairmont General Hospital and also worked on the election board.

To this day, Fraley isn’t afraid to share her political views.

“I’m a red hot Democrat,” she said.

The things Fraley, a widow for 26 years, most enjoyed about Barrackville were that everybody knew each other and that it was safe.

“I liked the folks in Barrackville,” Fraley said. “I never was afraid.”

According to Gypsy, friends and neighbors from the community are constantly stopping her to ask how her mother is doing.

“People will say, ‘Be sure to tell your mother I’ve asked about her,’ and I’ll get phone calls asking how my mother is doing,” she said. “Everybody’s been very kind.”

Don Fitzwater, of Fitzwater’s Gracious Living, said Fraley receives several visits and cards at her new residence as well.

“It’s amazing. She gets cards almost daily from someone,” he said.

This past June, Fraley celebrated her 105th birthday at Fitzwater’s.

“People came — I don’t know how many — but we had a lot of fun,” Fraley said. “It was nice.”

Fitzwater said Fraley is the oldest resident he has ever cared for, and that everyone at Fitzwater’s is thankful to have her.

“She’s been a blessing here,” Fitzwater said. “She always brings the table to prayer when we eat.”

Gypsy said Fraley’s weekend routine involves getting her hair done every Saturday. And attending church every Sunday continues to be a big part of Fraley’s life — and something she has shared with others.

“She was the first one that invited me to the Nazarene church,” Fitzwater said. “I had never been there before, but I’ve been going ever since.”

According to Gypsy, Fitzwater’s Gracious Living has been the perfect environment for her mother.

“We’re truly thankful for this place,” she said.

Gypsy said anyone who wants to stop by to see Fraley or send her a card is encouraged to do so.

“She enjoys the company of friends who are welcome to visit her at Fitzwater’s anytime,” she said.

Gypsy stops to see her mother several times throughout the week, and noted that there’s rarely a dull moment during those visits.

“I’m 84, and I’m trying to keep up with her,” she joked.

Dan said he feels very lucky to have his grandmother in his life.

“For most people, when you’re 61 years old, you don’t have a grandma. Normally, you’re fortunate to have your mother or father. When I tell people I’m going to go visit my grandmother, they say, ‘You’ve got some good genes,’” he said.

According to Gypsy, to all those she comes in contact with, Fraley has been a source of inspiration.

“She gives us all hope,” she said.

Email Kaylyn Christopher at or follow her on Twitter @KChristopherTWV.