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Cheshire Woman Celebrates 109th Birthday

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Stan Zarek presents Bernice "Bennie" Madigan with a certificate from the Selectmen congratulating her on her birthday.
CHESHIRE — Her friends have been holding birthday parties for Bernice "Aunt Bennie" Madigan since she was about 80. So just because she moved hundreds of miles away, that was no reason to stop an annual tradition that's been going on for some 30 years.

More than 100 people, including two dozen or so from Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., arrived in Cheshire on Saturday to wish Madigan a happy 109th birthday.

"I've been on my knees every day praying for good weather. Today, I was finally able to get up," joked a spry Madigan, her soft voice nearly drowned out by music and chatter.

Indeed, after days of rain and gloomy skies, Saturday dawned bright and clear for a perfect party under the tent at Rolling Acres Farm, where the centenarian has lived since November with the help of her niece, Elaine Daniels.

Daniels, one of the few relatives Madigan has left in Cheshire, said she was glad so many had come out to help her aunt celebrate her birthday. "I really appreciate the love and support that's been shown to Aunt Bennie by so many people."

Herb Hall and Bennie Madigan talk about old times Herb Hall and Madigan talk about old times.

Madigan's received congratulations from congressmen, governors and town officials, been featured in local media and was the star of the Memorial Day parade, but what really touched her was a pink-painted, wooden butterfly.

"It used to hang on my garage," she said on Saturday, holding it up for all to see. 

The garden ornament was a reminder of her home in Silver Springs, Md., where she had moved nearly 70 years ago with her husband, Paul. When her husband died in 1976, Madigan continued to live in the tidy brick home with its beautiful gardens, surrounded by her extended "family" — her neighbors and in-laws, and their children and their grandchildren.

   Madigan as a child.
"Our daughter used to go her house with friends for tea parties in the afternoon," said Stan Pond, who lives around the corner from Madigan's old home in Maryland. "We've been going to Bennie's birthday for 30 years."

He and his wife, Nancy, pointed to a picture of them and their now-married daughter taken with Madigan years ago. "She's just such a treasure," said Nancy Pond.

Two corkboards were filled with pictures of Madigan at all ages — a serious youngster in sepia tones from her childhood in Cheshire, a smart-looking young woman outside a brick rowhouse in Washington where she'd gone off to work at 18, a black-and-white Hollywood glamour shot with a flapper bob. Then Madigan in color, but her hair white, standing in her garden, posing with friends, waving from the back of a snowmobile in her 90s.

Nieces Mary Madigan, left, and Elaine Daniels cut the cake.

"She's my best friend," said Jackie Hall, whose father-in-law, Herb Hall, had lived next door to Madigan for more than 50 years. (It was Herb who apparently started the annual gatherings.) She laughed as she recalled how she had dedicated one of the quilts she made to Madigan, signing it to her best friend "on her 104th birthday." "People were wondering how old I was!"

Madigan has frequently said the lack of stress — children in particular — has a lot to do with her longevity. (At her party, friends called out "and a shot of scotch and a snowmobile ride" to which Madigan agreed, adding "don't print that.")

She's part of a gerontology study, which she hopes will help others. She keeps active making puzzles and reads the Washington Post religiously — even if it comes a day late. For her birthday, her caregivers banded together to buy her a year's subscription that arrives by mail. She loved to play the piano but has trouble tickling the ivories nowadays.

She and her husband were childless, but it was apparent that Madigan has been welcomed by many as an adoptive aunt and grandmother and, to some, a second mother. She makes friends easily and keeps them for a long, long, long time.
After the cake was eaten, pictures taken and a wild ride on a souped-up hot rod, Madigan seemed to be feeling the weight of her years. "All things must come to an end," she said. "I guess I'll be ending my days here."

But the moment passed quickly. She's already planning her 110th birthday, to which she'll be inviting Willard Scott.

"She's an inspiration," said niece Mary Madigan. "She has such a positive outlook. She's living in the day."
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Cheshire Mammoth Cheese Featured in Netherlands Cheese Magazine Kaas!

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Cheshire Mammoth Cheese is certainly known in these parts, but its fabled journey to Washington, D.C., has turned heads at Nederlands Nationaal Kaaskeurconcours, the Dutch National Cheese Inspection Competition.
"We understood that in certain domestic circles the story of the Mammoth Cheshire Cheese was revered, however, I'm not sure anyone expected this kind of international attention," said John Tremblay of the Cheshire Community Association.
As the story goes, the 1,235-pound wheel of cheese was commissioned by Elder John Leland after the election of Thomas Jefferson as president in 1800. Local historians say Cheshire was the only town in Berkshire County to have voted for Jefferson.  In fact, it is believed that every single vote but one went to Jefferson.
Townspeople converted a cider mill into a giant cheese press and with the help of more than 900 Cheshire cows, the half-ton cheese wheel was created and delivered to the new White House.
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