CHESHIRE, Mass. — Cheshire's resurrecting the concept of honoring its oldest citizen as part of next year's celebration of its 225th anniversary.
That recognition on Monday went to Juliette Ferland Campbell, age 105, who has lived in Cheshire for three years with family.
"She's the first recipient of the special Cheshire Senior Cane for a program we are inaugurating in honor of the 225th anniversary of the town of Cheshire," Historical Commission Chairwoman Diane Hitter said. "So she is the star of that celebration."
Campbell was presented with a certificate of congratulations from the Board of Selectmen by longtime Selectwoman Carol Francesconi and a ceremonial cane from the family of Gus Martin, a member of the Historical Commission.
Back in 1909, a few years before Campbell's birth, Boston Post Publisher Edwin Grozier sent 700 New England towns gold-topped ebony canes to be presented to their oldest male residents, in turn, as part of a advertising campaign for the now defunct paper. Some towns that still have the canes have been using them to recognize their oldest citizens, Cheshire does not appear to have received one.
Instead, Campbell was presented with a cane that is both a family heirloom and piece of Cheshire history.
Martin said the ninth generation of his family is now tilling the soil of Cheshire, a legacy that dates to the very founding of the town. His great-great-grandfather had had a farm about where Campbell now resides on Cheshire Reservoir.
"When they created the lake for Adams, 'his farm, being materially interfered with,' he left for another place," he laughed. "We've been here a long time."
The handcarved cane dates to 1879 (the date is boldly carved at the top) and is intricately decorated with scrolls, animals, and Bible verses.
Martin's great-great-grandmother, Barbara M. Martin, had hired J.B. Dean to build a house across from what is now 221-225 North St.
"He was confined to a wheelchair during part of that construction time, and during that time it's said he whittled this cane with a pen knife and a compass," he said.
The presentation was largely symbolic; Campbell will keep the certificate but the cane will be held by the Martins and presented to the next recipient.
Campbell thinks that will be awhile. Even though she'll be 106 in December, the bright-eyed centennarian said her health is "excellent."
"I feel great," she said. "As I was getting older, as long as I could do for myself, I was already to live."
She married Arthur Campbell later in life, and has two stepchildren in New York State. She worked at the former GE "like everybody else."
Her nieces and nephew, Charlene Wood, Marcia Madison and Steven Coltrara, and grandniece Shauna Knuth and "grandniece-in-law" Heather Madison attended the presentation along with friends and other commission members Robert Hitter and Elaine Daniels.
"She's doing better than some people in their 80s and 90s, so really she's an inspiration to all of us," the Rev. Matthew Guidi of St. Mary's said as he gave a prayer.
When asked what is the secret to a long healthy life, Campbell shook her head.
"I wish I knew, I'd bottle it and sell it," she laughed.
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