Tuesday night, Cornelia “Ms. Happy” Tiller was picked up by her cousins to attend the jail ministry program at the Madison County Criminal Justice Complex, a normal Tuesday night for the 94-year-old woman. However, when she arrived, almost 100 family members, friends, elected officials, non-profit leaders, and ministers welcomed her. That was certainly not normal.
“I wondered what everybody was doing here. I thought that I didn’t know what was going on! Good gracious!” Tiller said after the surprise.
Soon after, Madison Co. Commissioner Jeff Wall read a proclamation from Mayors Scott Conger and A.J. Massey, declaring Tuesday, May 16, 2023, as “Cornelia ‘Ms. Happy’ Tiller” Day. Then, Wall and Judge Don Allen unveiled a portrait of Tiller that will hang in the visitation room.
When people come to visit their loved ones or minister to inmates in the jail, they will be greeted by the portrait of Ms. Happy, the woman who has visited hundreds, if not thousands, of inmates over the last 30 years, bringing joy, wisdom, and laughter to a harsh and stressful environment.
In fact, that is exactly why they call her “Ms. Happy.” Throughout the dedication, her humor lit up the room. People described scenes of motorcycle rides with elected officials, and the time she was “arrested” and put on trial for her 90th birthday.
She received hugs from men in the Men of Hope program, and kind words from the leaders of organizations she has impacted.
“I just want you to know you not only bring hope to these women, but you bring humor and we all need that right now,” Scarlett Rope Director Julanne Stone said, “And so I’m just so grateful for you, so grateful for all the work done for our community. And I look up to you and I admire you and to be like you one day.”
“Ms. Happy goes and sees the girls in jail. And then she, for decades now, has come and followed up, so she comes to sit on the porch. Mother, grandmother, great grandmother, maybe a great-great grandmother. Some of our ladies love on her, and they’ve gotten used to talking to her in the jail. And then she’s a confidant when she comes to the house,” Nathan Young, from the Care Center said.
Almost every speaker was met with, “Oh my goodness!” or “That’s my girl!” or “I love you!”
Even at 94, Tiller does not plan on retiring. She still has her cousin drive her to minister to people every week.
“Well, one reason is that I love the Lord God Almighty, my Lord Jesus, and everybody I would want to talk to you about my Lord Jesus would run away from me,” Tiller said jokingly, “They didn’t want to listen to me talk about the Lord Jesus. So I finally found a group of people, my sweet jail girls. They couldn’t get away from me. They had to listen about my Lord Jesus. And they just seem to enjoy it.”
Julia Ewoldt, email@example.com