Whether facing rain, sleet, snow or the fact that he turns 90 years of age on Thursday, nothing will stop Ernie Gibson of Benton from walking a mile or cooking unique pecan pies for the community every day.
"I just started making pies and people got to eating them. The more they ate, the more I made them and I just stayed with it," he said with a laugh. "I don't know why I make the pies, it's just something I found out I could do and people seem to like it."
Not long after his wife Dorothy Jean — who only answered to Jean — died in 2005, Gibson began a daily routine. Every day since then, he gets up before the crack of dawn, usually around 3 a.m. and without the aid of an alarm clock.
"I haven't kept an alarm clock in my bedroom since Jean passed," he explains. "I don't know, maybe growing up on a farm is the reason I get up so early."
He sits down, reads a few verses in the Bible and then heads out for a stroll.
"Since my wife died, I haven't missed a day of walking," Gibson said. He walks a mile in 20 minutes. "The weather will try its best to keep me from walking, but I don't let it bother me. If it's raining, I get the umbrella and rubber boots and go on. If it's snowing, I'll throw on my boots."
Besides passing the time, there is another reason that a man that's lived 90 years on earth never stops putting his feet on the roadway — to protect his health.
Gibson said it was 1946 when he left Jonesboro to take a job with the Alcoa plant in Bauxite.
"Oh yeah," Gibson said, when asked if he enjoyed working there. "They paid good (money). And that's what I am living on now is Alcoa money."
But he was forced to retire in 1978 after his second heart attack and resulting bypass surgery. Today he remains committed to keeping his heart and body healthy.
"The main reason I walk is to get my heart pumping, and that's the best way in the world to do that," he said. "After I get back from a walk I can tell my heart is beating. It helps to keep a person in rhythm."
Upon his return home, Gibson gets to work on something the community treasures and appreciates immensely, those golden-topped, buttery pecan pies. Usually he cooks two each day. He bakes them both at once, which takes about an hour in the oven, and then he gives them to the people at Crossroads Missionary Baptist Church to distribute to the community, or sometimes people just come to his house to pick them up. Last week Gibson said he made 16 pies.
But there is more to the process than putting the ingredients in the tin pans together and throwing them in the oven. He either drives or gets a ride to Lonoke and purchases about 300 pounds of pecans at a time. Then it takes between five and six weeks for Gibson to get all the pecans shelled and bagged for the deep freeze.
"When I've got time, I just sit down and shell some," he said.
When Gibson is not walking the roadway or shelling pecans or cooking pecan pies, he's out helping his family, tending to chores around the house, or helping his neighbors. Just last week, after the winter storm caused tree limbs and even some whole trees to fall down, Gibson got out and helped clean up the debris.
"If anyone needs help, I'm always available. I just do what comes naturally," he said. "I can't do as much or last as long (as when I was younger), but I still do all my work and chores and everything."
Gibson has been a member and Sunday school teacher at Crossroads church since 1950. He even helped build all the facilities on the property, as well as help build on the word of God to the congregation. Gibson doesn't just live for God on Sundays, he lives for the Lord every day and has read through the Bible more times than he can remember.
"I don't know how many times I've read through it, but the Bible is something that you can't comprehend all in one reading," he explained. "You read something in the Bible today, and it may be pretty clear, but you come back to the same verse six months from now and it may have an all together different meaning. It always has an answer for your situation."
And at the age of 90, Gibson continues to teach, tapping the wisdom he's gained through the decades. He said that many times he hears people say they can't make their own pecan pies or they can't get out and walk.
"It's a whole lot easier to tell yourself 'Oh I can't do it' than it is to do it. And that's the biggest problem right there," Gibson said. "My theory is you can do what you want to do. It's all in your mind. I get people praising my pies and saying 'I can't do that,' but I tell them, 'Well, you could if you try.'"
That's what has kept Gibson healthy enough to live to the age of 90: commitment, no matter what the world throws his way. Come rain, snow, sleet or any adversity, Gibson just keeps on chugging.
"My mother Bertha lived six months into age 102. If they hadn't taken her driver's license away from her when she was 100, she might have lived longer," he said. "My dad, though, was a World War I veteran, and he got mustard gas in his body and only lived to be 62. I think I got my mom's genes; that's what's kept me healthy. Well, that and good, clean living."
Gibson said that his recipe for the pecan pies was also from his mom. He recalls days that his mom would cook the pies for restaurants in Jonesboro, as well as for people at Arkansas State University.
"She used to tell me about feeding the football players," he said. "She said they didn't just eat a piece, they would eat a whole pie."
Gibson said he didn't have any plans for his birthday. Or as he puts it, "I don't make plans. Just whatever comes, that's what I do." However, he did say that his family is planning something for his 90th birthday party, which is likely happening today. All Gibson said he knows is that he is "just going to show up" and bring a pecan pie "if they want me to."
After 90 years on earth, Gibson said it doesn't seem like it's been that long of time that has passed. He just does the job he's meant to do and goes along for the ride.
"I can't tell any difference now from when I was 60," he said. "As far as time, it doesn't seem like it's been that long. I'm just thankful that I can still get up and go. I've seen so much that there isn't anything that surprises me anymore."
The only thing that would be surprising to his family, friends, church congregation and neighbors is if he ever has a day without walking and making those delicious pecan pies.
"He goes about 90-to-nothing," daughter-in-law Debbie Gibson said with a laugh. "You would never guess by looking at him that he's 90. He's such a unique personality, and it's so impressive and inspiring that he never misses a day of walking or making the pecan pies for people. He has such a great story."
The secret to his recipe is simple: They're made to help people.
"I haven't counted in quite some time, so I don't have any idea on how many (pecan pies) I've made," Gibson said. "It's just something the Lord gave me the ability to do. None of them are sold. I just give them away to people."
He added, "My thing is, if the Lord gives me enough knowledge to do something, if I don't do it he'll give me something else that I might not like to do. It might be worse. It's a whole lot easier to do what he wants you to do instead of fighting him, because he's got the upperhand. And I don't mind making pecan pies. It's no problem to me. I go into the kitchen, put two pies together and it doesn't bother me one bit in the world to do it. I think of the people that get the pies and enjoy them, and I hear them say 'those sure are good pies.' I just know I don't ever bring one (pie) back home."