‘The Hat Lady’ turns 99

If you just met Ollie Shankle out and around, you’d think she’s just a recent retiree — not a 99-year-old great-great-grandmother.

In her Norwood home on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, she talked about her childhood days, life on a farm and working in a textile mill while raising four children. And she showed off some of what she’s well known for around Norwood — her large collection of hats, most of which are hand-made by Shankle.

“I make most of my own hats,” she said before demonstrating how she fashions them from head wraps.

“I started wearing hats when I was a little girl,” she said. “Now, I hardly ever go out of the house without one.”

The steps to transforming a cloth wrap into a hat wasn’t something she took a class for, or read a book to learn.

“One morning I woke up and cut a piece of fabric and wrapped my head with it,” Shankle said. “It’s not something that I had to learn, it just came to me.”

Her unique skill in transforming otherwise run-of-the-mill cloth strips into fashionable headwear has become prodigious over the years.

“Nobody else does my style,” she said, adding that she has designed “around a hundred” hats.

Does she have a favorite hat or two?

“No, not really,” she replied.

She was born near Olive Branch in Union County on Nov. 26, 1924, and grew up on her parents’ farm.

“I loved working on the farm,” she said, “but I eventually moved to Stanly County. I went to work at the Jefferies textile mill in Albemarle, and retired from there in 1981.”

Shankle has been in her house between Norwood and Aquadale since 1971, and raised four children: Lucinda, Vonnell, Lance and Angelo.

“We moved into this house on Christmas Eve in 1971. That was a nice Christmas present,” she recalled.

Daughter Lucinda, who lives in Charlotte, describes her mother as having “always been very fashionable,” and said “she never goes out without a hat…that’s why they call her the ‘hat lady.’ ”

“She’s also very active,” Lucinda said. “She gets around better than I do, and she loves to travel.”

“I’ve been to New York, Washington, Maryland, Atlanta, and love the beach,” Ollie chimed in.

“The Hat Lady” Ollie Shankle is shown in her Sunday best. (Photo by TOBY THORPE)

Lucinda added that a celebration of her mom’s 99th birthday is scheduled for 2-6 p.m. Dec. 9 at the Jesse F. Niven Center in Albemarle, with family and friends honoring her.

And is Ollie making plans for a 100th birthday celebration?

“I don’t know,” she said. “But I’ve got more time than money.”

Toby Thorpe is a freelance writer for The Stanly News & Press.