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Her Wish: Sharing Life's Pain and Joy

Louvenia Dudley faced racism and hardship in the 1960s as she raised five children on her own in Stoneville. Last fall, she sat in a professional recording studio to recount her life story to share with her grandchildren and greatgrandchildren. It was made possible by Wish of a Lifetime, an AARP charitable affiliate, which works to grant life-changing wishes to those 65-plus.
Courtesy Wish of a Lifetime

As a woman of African and Native American descent, Louvenia Dudley faced racism and hardship in the 1960s as she raised her five children on her own in Stoneville, a small town north of Greensboro.

She juggled multiple jobs to support her family and was the first Black parent to send her children to the local all-white school after integration—one of several firsts that taught her life lessons about standing up for what’s right.

Sometimes people were nasty, recalls Dudley, 88, but “I didn’t let anyone intimidate me.”

Last fall, Dudley sat in a quiet room at a professional recording studio to recount her life story. It was a moment she had dreamed of—creating an oral history of her most difficult and joyful experiences to share with others—made possible by Wish of a Lifetime, an AARP charitable affiliate.

WOL works to grant life-changing wishes to adults 65-plus and change the way society views older generations by sharing their stories, says Tom Wagen-lander, the nonprofit’s executive director. Since its inception in 2008, WOL has fulfilled more than 2,700 wishes, including a record 292 in 2023.

“We are an organization that believes everyone should be able to age with hope and joy,” Wagenlander says. “For some, that’s not a reality, and that’s what our wishes do—make that a reality.”

Recording, retracing roots

Dudley says she wanted a record of her life lessons—and her life story—for her 11 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, who are scattered across the U.S.

“I wanted them to understand that when I grew up, it was so different,” Dudley says. “People take for granted what African Americans went through to get where they are.”

Dudley recording her life story in a professional recording studio. Photo courtesy of Wish of a Lifetime.

Dudley was the first African American employee at the local bank, and some customers called her names. But she eventually became the head teller. “The white folks didn’t like it,” she says. “But [my manager] said, ‘Anything we show her, she can do it.’”

She was one of several North Carolinians to have their wishes granted by WOL in 2023. The organization arranged for professional golfer Fred Couples to autograph a photo, golf hat and personal bobblehead for a 98-year-old woman—and huge fan— from Pinehurst.

And it sent a 67-year-old Charlotte woman to Washington, D.C., with her daughter and grandson, so they could retrace their ancestor’s roots. The organization is planning to grant a similar wish in 2024 to another North Carolinian: Brenda McCoy Hunter of Winston-Salem.

McCoy Hunter, 77, wants to research a bit of family lore about her grandfather, William Dalton, who was a highly respected educator in the Winston-Salem area known as “the professor.”

A story passed down through the family holds he was such an influential teacher, the U.S. president (there’s uncertainty about which one) invited him to Washington in the early 1900s to speak to a large gathering of educators. But once he arrived in the nation’s capital and it was discovered that he was African American, the story goes, he was sent back home.

No one in the family recorded the details of the story before Dalton passed away in 1920, McCoy Hunter says. So WOL is working with the Library of Congress to help McCoy Hunter research the story; she hopes to eventually go to the National Archives in Washington to unearth more about her grandfather. She says she wants all the details to share with the rest of her family, ideally at a big family reunion scheduled for this summer.

“I want to … validate it and celebrate it,” she says. “It would make a tremendous difference in the lives of a whole bunch of people. … We just need to know.”

Learn more about WOL at

Michelle Crouch is a North Carolina-based journalist who covers health care and consumer issues. She has written for the Bulletin for 10 years.

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