By Leslie H. Dixon and Erin Place
Like it or not, Bee is Oxford’s elder
OXFORD — Bee Merrill didn’t aspire to be the recipient of the Boston Post Cane award.
It just happened.
“I didn’t want to be the oldest person in Oxford, but it seems that I am,” the 94-year-old told the overflow crowd of family and friends present at the award ceremony during the Board of Selectmen’s Thursday, Aug. 17 meeting.
Bee was awarded the town’s original 1909, 14-carat gold-tipped cane as the oldest resident of the town. It was an honor her mother, Eva Cooper Paine, who passed away at 101, also attained.
At 94, Bee has a large contingent of family, including some of her 30 grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren, and friends with her at the ceremony. The crowd was so large that chairs were set up in the lobby and the celebratory cake and party had to be moved outside to the front of the Town Office so selectmen could eventually continue with their regularly scheduled meeting.
Interim Town Manager Becky Lippincott presented the original cane, temporarily, to Bee, but the town also gave her a plaque, which she can keep.
Like many other towns, Oxford eventually decided to keep the cane safely under lock and key rather than let the recipient keep it until his or her death. They are now rare.
During the presentation, Lipincott talked about Bee’s life.
According to information provided by Lippincott at the award ceremony, Bee was born in 1923, the year Warren Harding, the 29th president of the United States died in office, and when Hank Williams, Henry Kissinger and Rocky Marciano were born.
The daughter of Frank and Eva Cooper, and sister of Leona, Erland, Frank, June and Donald, who all predeceased her, she attended the one-room Pratt School in East Oxford and graduated from Oxford High School in 1941.
She really did walk four miles to school each day, said Lippincott.
Bee married her high school sweetheart, James F. Kane, in 1942 and had five children, Donna, Jim, Kristen, Mary Ellen and Karol. After Jim died in 1971 at the age of 49, Bee met and married Clarence (Sonny) Merrill, in the late 1970s. They spent 37 happy years together before he passed away at age 89.
Bee’s hobbies in the past have included rug braiding. Now she makes greeting cards and scrapbooks. She has loaned more than 80 scrapbooks to the Oxford Historical Society.
Boston cane to Boston gal on Sumner farm
SUMNER — For almost 60 years, Stella Stachaczynski has resided on her farm where she made a home with her late husband, Frank. At 97, she still lives there to this day and was recently awarded the Boston Post Cane to honor her as Sumner’s oldest resident.
Before annual town meeting got underway Aug. 8, Stella was presented with the antique cane, along with a certificate, and a bunch of roses from the Sumner Fire Department. Selectman Kelly Stewart told the audience about the infamous canes and Stella’s life.
In 1909, Boston Post Publisher Edwin Grozier distributed 700 of the canes to New England towns for selectmen to give to the oldest living man. In 1930, the award was opened up to women, according to the Boston Post Cane Information Center.
“His intent was to honor the oldest citizens our of towns. We are proud to carry on that tradition 108 years later,” Stewart said. “We would not be here today without men and women such as Stella Stachaczynski, who have seen and implemented many changes over the better part of this century.”
The canes are made of ebony and gold.
“Because we treasure our older citizens for their many contributions to our town, state and country, it is only fitting that the cane be made of the finest materials,” Stewart said.
Stewart spoke with Stella prior to the town meeting and shared her story.
Stella was born on June 26, 1920, in Boston. She moved to Medford, Massachusetts, as a young girl.
“It was in Medford that she fell in love and married Frank,” Stewart said. “In 1960, Frank and Stella came to Sumner with a friend and Frank fell in love with our beautiful scenery. It reminded him of his homeland of Poland.
“Stella loved the views of the mountains and Labrador Pond as there were not any trees back then obstructing their views,” Stewart continued. But even with the beautiful views, Stella was unsure of the type of home Frank wanted to buy.
“When she saw the old farm on Lower Sumner Hill, she stated, ‘You want to buy this old place?’ Well they did indeed buy it for the sum of $1,500 and the house became affectionately known as ‘Frank’s Broken Down Farm,’” Stewart said, to laughter from the audience. “Stella further said, ‘I married the guy so I better go along with him.’”
It took years of work, but the couple was able to transform their farm into “a beautiful home.”
“Frank is gone. But his spirit still resides with Stella at Frank’s Broken Down Farm,” Stewart said.
Stella’s nephew, Steve Puzak, and his daughter help take care of Stella, along with other Sumner residents who check in on the town’s oldest resident.
In 1909, 700 Boston Post Canes were manufactured as a publicity gimmick by the publisher of the Boston Post – a one-time leading national mid-size newspaper, based in Boston that folded in 1957.
On Aug. 2, 1909, Edwin A. Grozier, publisher of the paper, sent boards of selectmen in 700 small towns – not cities – in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, the gold tipped ebony cane asking that they be awarded to the oldest male in the town.
According to the Boston Post Cane Information Center, eligibility was not open to women until after 1930.
The cane was “to be used by him as long as he lives (or moves from the town), and at his death handed down to the next oldest citizen of the town,” the Information Center’s website, http://web.maynard.ma.us, reads.
The cane shafts are made of ebony from the Congo in Africa, which was shipped to the U.S. in 7-foot logs. They were crafted into canes by J.F. Fradley and Co., of New York, which featured 14 karat gold-tipped heads.
“They were cut to cane lengths, seasoned for six months, turned on lathes to the right thickness, coated and polished. They had a 14-carat [sic] gold head two inches long, decorated by hand, and a ferruled tip,” according to the Boston Post Cane Information Center.
“The head was engraved with the inscription, – Presented by the Boston Post to the oldest citizen of (name of town) – ‘To Be Transmitted.’ The Board of Selectmen were to be the trustees of the cane and keep it always in the … hands of the oldest citizen.”
Of the original 700 canes, many are gone.
According to the Boston Post Cane Information Center, original canes have disappeared in various ways, including being been lost, kept by the recipients family and lost in fires over the years.
In Alfred, one recipient’s heir refused to return the cane after the recipient’s death. Eventually, the town recovered the cane, which is now displayed at Town Hall in a case.
Gray lost its cane in a house fire in the 1920s.
Newcastle’s went missing and ended up going to Connecticut for 23 years before it was found by a family member and returned.