Advanced age is ‘a privilege,' says 112-year-old

Wednesday July 27, 2011

CHESHIRE, Mass. -- Twelve years now into her second century of life, Cheshire resident Bernice "Bennie" Emerson Madigan continues to live the American dream.

Which for many is simply to live -- and do it in style. The milestone reached on Sunday means that she is believed to be the oldest living state resident, 10th oldest person in the nation and in the top 40 across the globe.

"The secret for living this long is I didn't have children," Madigan said during an interview on Saturday. "No stress, no strain, nothing to worry me."

Madigan was guest of honor at a birthday bash held Saturday at the Rolling Acres Farm. The chatty, sharp-witted retired U.S. Department of the Treasury worker held a cheerful outdoor court as more than 200 people strolled the farm grounds and offered kisses and congratulations. She shared smiles, memories, and jokes from her seat under a canopy-style tent. Among the honors was a personal serenade presented her by "Breakaway" a cappella singing group.

Born in West Springfield in 1899, Madigan moved to Cheshire during 1906. A 1918 graduate of Adams High, she traveled by train to Washington D.C., after graduation. The trip marked her first time away from home, she said. Coincidence led her to a contingent of career-minded girls from Dalton, and they traveled together, she recalled.

History-making events

From her vantage point at the nation's capital, Madigan shared in the history-making events of the 1900s. After women were granted the right to vote, she said she voted first for Warren G. Harding. She has witnessed numerous presidential inaugurations, including one with a less than stellar view.

"We were there at 7 a.m., and we were front and center, very close," Madigan said. "We had the best view, but there was a big space and after the parade, the space filled with a cavalry unit. All we saw was the back end of horses."

Exactly which inauguration that was eluded her but she did remember "Mrs. Coolidge was very nice."

Madigan has witnessed countless changes as the railways lost ground to highways, telegraph offices became in-home telephones and radios were the "next big thing." When televisions became commonplace in American households, the technology was a positive, she said.

"At first it was wonderful but not anymore," she said. "I do get a kick out of the cop shows though, you get some action."

She and her husband, Paul, met in D.C., and were married for 50 years. He died in 1976. "It was love at first sight," she said. "He was the grandest guy in the world."

She was once chosen to help the government dispose of $2 million in used currency and has a souvenir made from the pulp. Madigan moved from Silver Springs, Md., back to Cheshire in 2007. She is a beloved figure who was known as a "neighborhood matriarch."

Numerous former neighbors trekked northward for the party, including the folks who bought her house.

"She was so charming when we were buying the house," Dennis King said. King and co-owner Robert "Bob" Orlowsky said that a photograph of Madigan hangs in the dining room.

Stanley and Nancy Pond lived near Madigan on Lanier Drive. Madigan's superb memory showed about six years ago when she and Stanley Pond were discussing baseball, he said.

"She was out in the yard and I was wearing a Washington National shirt," he said. "I asked her if she remembered the 1924 Washington Senators world champions, and she started naming the players." Sue Flaherty, Sheri Hall and Sharon Hudson grew up with Madigan as a neighbor.

Madigan is an accomplished pianist who is still able to play a tune, and she loves butterflies, niece Elaine Daniels said. Madigan has outlived a brother, Roy Emerson and a sister Marilyn Emerson Martin. Her picture hangs at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry as part of a "You, the Experience" exhibit. Photographs of Madigan displayed at the party depict a dark-haired young woman of beauty.

She received birthday acknowledgements from President Barak Obama, Gov. Deval Patrick, U.S. Congressman John Olver, state Sen. Benjamin Downing and state Rep. Paul Mark. And she believes that getting older is something to relish.

According to family members, Madigan has often said the following: "Never regret getting older. It's a privilege that is denied many."


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