HOW DO you live to be 106?

Well, follow the lead of Viola Waters. She shunned greasy foods, concentrated on fresh vegetables and had a daily drink of hot tea, which she believed removed impurities from the body.

She certainly must have done something right, because not only did she live nearly seven years beyond the century mark, she was healthy and alert almost to the end.

"Last June, she visited me in Strawberry Mansion and didn't want any help walking," said her granddaughter Donna M. Stoney. "She walked up 15 steps in the house by herself."

Viola Waters, a retired restaurant employee, active churchwoman and devoted family matriarch, died Wednesday. She would have been 107 on Jan. 3. She was a longtime resident of North Philadelphia.

She began her life in the cotton fields of Catawba County, N.C., where her parents, James and Hassie Cornelius, had a farm. She was the oldest of their 13 children.

As the oldest child, she often had to take care of her younger siblings as a kind of surrogate mother.

If Viola endured any racial problems as a black woman in the rural Jim Crow South, she never talked about it.

"She wouldn't have dwelled on anything like that," her granddaughter said. "She would just let it pass."

Viola managed to finish the eighth grade in the public schools of Salisbury, N.C., but she was a lifelong advocate for education, and always strove to encourage family members and other children to stay in school.

She also considered religion a necessary part of a child's education.

"She would hand you a Bible and say, 'Sit down and read it,' " Donna said.

She married John Waters in North Carolina, and they had three daughters before coming to Philadelphia in the '30s. Her husband was a skilled carpenter and worked as a handyman, and also was employed by Merck Sharp & Dohme.

They lived on Bolton Street, between 24th and 25th, in North Philadelphia, for more than 60 years. Her husband died in the '80s and, in later years, she moved to Four Freedoms House, in Germantown.

Viola, called Nana by her family, worked for many years for the Horn & Hardart restaurant at Kensington and Allegheny avenues. She was proud of having served generations of customers from all walks of life.

Nana had a special fondness for children, and was involved in youth activities at places like the recreation center at 22nd Street and Columbia Avenue, and acted as a chaperone on trips undertaken by her church.

She was a longtime and devoted member of Peniel Methodist Church, now the Haven Peniel United Methodist Church.

She served on the Usher Board for many years, and other church committees and missions. In fact, she was always available for whatever the church needed to be done.

Her favorite hymn was "Blessed Assurance:"

This is my story, this is my song,

Praising my Savior all the day long.

Viola's home on Bolton Street was always open to family members and others who needed either a short-term or longer stay. She especially provided shelter and food for those coming north from the South, as she had done so long ago.

Viola made frequent trips home to North Carolina for family reunions and to visit relatives who remained behind. She and her husband also provided monetary support to family members here and in the South.

She is survived by a daughter, Mary Horsey; a brother, John Cornelius; a sister, Hazeline Cornelius; five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. A great-great-grandchild is on the way.

Services: 11 a.m. Saturday at Haven Peniel United Methodist Church, 23rd and Oxford streets. Friends may call at 9 a.m. Burial will be in Northwood Cemetery, 15th and Haines streets.