Retired Conroe educator Jeanette DeFee walked into Gold's Gym along
Texas 105 Tuesday ready to hop on the bicycle machine. However, when she
entered the door, DeFee was greeted by smiling staff members, a banner
and balloons – one day before her 99th
birthday (Nov. 15).
DeFee had no idea about the celebration or about Conroe Mayor Toby
Powell's plans to honor her with a proclamation today.
Staff Photo by Michael
The staff of the Conroe Gold's Gym surprise their client, Conroe
resident Jeanette DeFee, with a banner and balloons to celebrate her
99th birthday on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017
"This is a surprise," said DeFee, who has been hitting the gym to keep
her knees in shape. "I started in 1995. My legs gave me a lot of
trouble, and I thought I better come and bicycle. It keeps me moving.
You have to do things, that's what keeps you going."
She's dedicated, checking in as the oldest member at the Conroe Gold's
Gym nearly every day around lunchtime, according to Gold's Gym
Operations Manager Julie Baeza.
"It's kind of like a breath of fresh air," said Baeza, who said it is
uncommon to see members DeFee's age working out. "She doesn't complain,
she rides her bike, while some give up. It's admirable. She gives no
Conroe resident David Deck, 68, shares her story to hold friends
"I'll say, 'So what's your excuse,'" he said. "She's a wonderful workout
DeFee says her knees are the only thing that make her feel her age, but
they don't stop her from still having an active life. Since 1948, she
has served the Conroe community starting with her role as a school
While she planned to be a stay-at home mother when she moved to the
area, after teaching in Pasadena in World War II, she answered Principal
B.B. Rice's call to teach again when her daughter's Conroe teacher was
"People were very patriotic," DeFee said. "People today are not
patriotic. You wanted to help in the war effort then."
She remained a substitute and school teacher for 27 years to also serve
her family, such as to buy a piano for her daughters to have lessons.
Throughout the years, she taught thousands of students, including at
Anderson Elementary where she spent most of her career and played an
instrumental role in starting the first reading lab, which was an
innovative program for students with reading difficulties, according to
DeFee and her daughter Beth Ann Blevins who coordinated the birthday
surprises for her.
DeFee's late husband, T.J. DeFee, also served as the first principal of
Runyan Elementary and once owned a grocery store in Conroe at the time.
She and her husband met when he offered her a ride after seeing her
walking to church in Pasadena. They were married for 47 years and shared
three daughters, Janie, Patsy and Beth Ann; six granddaughters, and 15
"When she arrived in Conroe in 1948, it was a town of 7,000," Blevins
wrote to The Courier. "Dirt streets still existed, horses could be seen
tied up in front of bars downtown, Houston was a 45-minute drive through
the woods on a two-lane highway (Texas 75). Not only has Jeanette seen
incredible growth and change in Conroe, she has been a significant
contributor to the community."
Upon retiring in 1979, she began traveling around the United States and
the world in Europe, Asia and Australia. As Conroe grew throughout the
years, she remained involved as a volunteer at the library where she
still repairs books every Wednesday afternoon with the Montgomery County
Library Friends. She has served the community through involvement with
the American Red Cross, the First Presbyterian Church, Girl Scout Troop
3, as president of Pan American Roundtable, Delta Kappa Gamma and
Montgomery County Association of Retired School Personnel.
"She has always been my guiding light," said Vicky Christopher,
president of the Library Friends of Conroe, who DeFee commends for her
service to the library. "I always told her when I grew up I wanted to be
Jeanette DeFee. … She truly believes she is helping us out and she is.
Even repairing two or three books is saving taxpayer money. … Sometimes
people come into our lives to encourage us to try to be the best that we
can be. I'm blessed that Jeanette DeFee has been such an encouraging
mentor in my life."
DeFee grew up in Pasadena in a family with nine children, including four
older sisters who brought her everywhere. She waited tables to pay for
her $20 tuition at the close of the Depression at Sam Houston. She
believes her childhood shaped her life.
"All of my life, I would just get up and go and just like to be active,"
she said. "... Growing up in a family like that, you learned to be
independent and you're not afraid to go out and get in front of the
public and you learn a lot. Kids who stay home don't learn as much as
kids who get up and go places. … But I grew up in the (Great)
Depression; and that really made a dent on my life. I'm very frugal
because I went through the depression where you don't throw anything
away, you might need it or you could change it or make it something
For many years, DeFee was a seamstress and is proud today of the dresses
she made for her daughters, as well as the more than 3,000 custom-design
shoes she has made, including for proms, Miss Texas beauty pageants,
weddings, festivals and more.
"I have a passion for fashion," she laughed.
During her birthday surprise, she wished the staff members also would
have the chance to celebrate their 99th birthday. And for the community,
she offered a little advice on what she has learned throughout the
"Get up every morning, get dressed and go do something," she said. "I
eat right, I don't' smoke, I don't drink, I don't drink coffee. I drink
a glass of milk and have no major health issues, just these knees. … Get
involved, stay involved. Don't sit in the chair all day at home; you get
old fast that way."