Cheshire Woman Is Fourth Oldest in the World
|Bernice 'Aunt Bennie' Madigan reads a quacking birthday card at her 114th birthday party on Saturday.|
CHESHIRE, Mass. — Bernice Madigan has set a goal to be the oldest person in the world.
She's been working on it for 114 years.
Known affectionately as "Aunt Bennie" to family members and the hundreds of friends she's made during her long, long life, Madigan is now the fourth oldest person in the world and the third oldest in the United States.
"Well, there are few ahead ... they have to die off," she laughed on Saturday as she held court under a tent at her annual birthday bash at Rolling Acres Farm.
Last year, she was No. 16.
Born in West Springfield on July 24, 1899, as Bernice Emerson, Madigan's family moved to Cheshire when she was a child. She moved to Washington, D.C., in 1918 to work for the government during World War I and later retired from the Treasury Department. She returned to Cheshire in 2007 to live with her niece, Elaine Daniels.
She's often credited her longevity to not having children. She and her late husband, Paul, who died in 1976, may not have had children but they found a family in the Silver Springs, Md., neighborhood where they lived for decades.
The birthday parties for Madigan began in the 1980s. Dozens of friends — old and new — as well as Madigan relatives continue to journey north to spent an afternoon with their beloved Aunt Bennie.
Madigan's slowed down a bit — no wild rides this year on fire trucks or in police cruisers — but she was happy to greet old friends and a passel of clowns who dropped by to entertain her.
"She's a wonderful person and so outgoing. I just love her," said Mary Scamman of Windsor, participating in a film being made by Paul Madigan's great niece Jennie Bright. "Everytime I come to visit her I bring her a little gift. She has a wonderful spirit."
Her husband, Pastor Warren Scamman of Peru Congregational Church and formerly of the Cheshire church, said Madigan "has a wonderful sense of humor."
The couple were among those sitting for interviews with Bright, an independent filmmaker from Los Angeles. Bright said she was inspired to create a film about Madigan by friend and documentarian Lucinda Davis.
"She said 'I can't believe you're not there making a film about her,'" said Bright between setups. "At a minumum it will be a nice family film, but depending how it comes together, it might be more exciting than that. It might go to a festival."
Madigan's been participating, too, but she said she's getting a little tired of the hoopla. She's disappointed about an encounter with National Geographic; the magazine took up her time earlier this year for an article about centenarians and DNA but she was missing from the story in the May issue.
"I don't want any more publicity," she said. Bright acknowledged Madison is a little leery of her film but hopes she'll be pleased when she gets to see some of the first cuts.
"I'd like to follow her to No. 1, that would be amazing," said Bright. "She seems to get so much energy from people."
Madigan does seem to thrive within the social network that surrounds her, ranging from doctors and local officials to her niece's young grandchildren.
"One reason she's able to live as long as she has is the love and care her family gives her," said Mary Scamman. "I think that keeps her alive."
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