On January 23rd, 2003, Vivian Henschke was presented the Longmeadow Gold Cane as the towns oldest citizen. In a tradition that dates back to 1909, Selectman Gerard Nolet presented Mrs. Henschke with the cane, with Rep. Mary Rogeness in attendance.
Vivian will be 101 on March 23rd, but she could easily be decades younger. Cheerful and alert, she reminded me of Barbara Bush as we chatted at her well-appointed Glenmeadow digs. Born 1902 in Winchester, New Hampshire, she came to the area in 1920 to attend Bay Path, which was then on Worthington Street in Springfield. She has been a resident of the area ever since. Married in 1934, she and her husband moved to Burbank Road which she described as being on the edge of the Wilderness.
She easily and fondly recalls how she and a bunch of girls from school would walk up to Springfield College to dances and feel safe at any time of day or night. She also relished memories of dancing at various Springfield Hotels now long gone. When asked if she thought dancing may have contributed to her longevity, she quipped no, I married a man who didnt dance.
In fact, Vivian cannot explain her good health. Longevity does not run in her family, she proclaims. She never exercised, and when it came to dietary habits, she proclaims with some defiance that she did whatever I wanted and ate whatever I wanted. But surely she never smoked, I queried; to which she replied packs a day. In fact, she only quit 7-8 years ago when the price went up twenty-five cents a pack. And as far as drinking habits, she announced when I go to a party, I am going to have a highball.
I spied a bowl of chocolates on her coffee table. She urged me to have some stating that she has so much chocolate it was coming out of her ears. I obliged.
Vivian never went to the doctors office much, and has only been in a hospital to have her two children. Aside from bad knees, Vivian is in excellent health and takes only non-prescription Tylenol occasionally. Incidentally, I called Vivian about this interview and went over there with a mere twenty-minutes lead time to find her perfectly coiffed and impeccably dressed right down to the skirt and heels, no less. She is very proud of the Longmeadow Cane, and hopes to have it in her possession for a long, long time.
You Go Girl! History of the Gold Cane
The history of the tradition is quite interesting. In 1909, Ed Grozier, publisher of the Boston Post, forwarded to the Boards of Selectmen of 431 towns a gold-headed ebony cane with the request that it be presented with the compliments of the Boston Post to the eldest male citizen of the town, to be used by him as long as he lives (or leaves town) and at his death be handed down to the next eldest citizen. The cane would belong to the town and not the recipient.
The canes were all made by a New York manufacturer from ebony shipped from the Congo. They had a 14-carat head, hand engraved, a full two-inches in length. The Board of Selectmen were to be the trustees of the cane and always keep it in the possession of the eldest citizen.
In 1930, after considerable debate, diversity set in and eligibility for the cane was opened to women as well.