By Lauren Saslow

Hazel McLean Henderson sat down in the salon chair at The LOFT Hair and Nail Lounge in Brandon for her weekly cut and style. Her hairdresser, Maryann Motes, who has been styling Henderson’s hair for 10 years, had a surprise planned for her loyal customer.

As Motes finished Henderson’s hair, the salon staff rolled out a cake and announced to all the staff and clients present that Henderson was celebrating her 100th birthday. Everyone, including her great-niece Cindy English, and her full-time caregiver Kimberly Reynolds, who were both in on the surprise, applauded as she carefully stood and blew out 10 candles, each representing a decade. It was custom decorated in Tampa Bay Buccaneers colors since Henderson is an avid fan.

“This is such a surprise,” she exclaimed wiping tears of joy from her eyes.

Her landmark centenarian birthday is not the only thing that makes Henderson unique. Henderson’s family were pioneers who first settled in Brandon during the 1880s, soon after it became a town. In fact, her current residence is on McLean Dr., aptly named after her family who were citrus farmers. She is the oldest living graduate of Brandon High School (BHS), class of 1932. The school was formerly Brandon Grade School, which included grades 1-12 and was originally located on the current site of McLane Middle School.

Henderson began teaching at age 16, at the time a legal age to acquire certification, while also attending school at the University of Tampa where she earned her Bachelor’s in education. She started teaching at Kenly Elementary School then later at Yates Elementary School until 1979 when she retired. Henderson, now widowed, was married for over 50 years, and has a son, Gregory, and four grandchildren. Last year, she was honored as the Grand Marshal Independence Day Parade that coincided with BHS’s 100th anniversary.

When asked about her loyalty to Motes, she replied assuredly, “She makes me look good and feel better.”

When complimented on her beauty, she replied humorously with a saying she learned from her mother, “Paint and powder, powder and paint, makes me look like what I ain’t.”

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