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Boston Cane Presented to Mendon’s Oldest Resident

Helen Berard (center), surrounded by her seven great-grandchildren, was presented with a replica of the Boston Post cane – an award given to the oldest Mendon resident, on December 22 at a party to celebrate her 97th birthday.

In what has become a long-standing tradition, a senior citizen and resident of Mendon was presented with a replica of the Boston Post Cane last month; an award given to the town's oldest citizen.

Helen Berard was presented with the "the Golden Cane," on December 22 at the Mendon Senior Center in the presence of friends and family members, some of whom came from as far away as Florida to help her celebrate the event along with her 97th birthday.

The giving of a cane to the oldest citizen in a town dates back to early 1900s when Boston Post Newspaper Publisher Edwin Grozier forwarded to the Board of Selectmen in 700 towns in New England a gold-headed ebony cane with the request that it be presented with the compliments of the Boston Post to the oldest male citizen of the town, to be used by him as long as he lives and at his death handed down to the next oldest citizen of the town. Though most of the original canes have been lost, many towns including Mendon carry on the tradition with replica canes that are given to the oldest male or female resident. Before Berard, the cane was awarded to Jeannette Shaheen in 2010 at the age of 99. Shaheen passed away in June of 2013.

Berard was born in Cumberland, R.I. and grew up in Woonsocket. She worked as a seamstress in numerous dress shops in the Rhode Island area for her entire career until she retired at the age of 60. Fifty-two years ago, Berard and her husband purchased a home on Taft Avenue directly on Lake Nipmuc as a summer home for her family. Berard has fond memories of times spent with her children and grandchildren swimming and fishing right in their own backyard. Berard and her husband moved permanently to their home in Mendon in 1995 and lived together until he passed away in 2000 at the age of 92.

Today Berard, or "Mémère Helen" as she is known to her family, still lives in the home she thought of as a summer retreat, now with her daughter and son-in-law Jeanne and Rene Demers. Berard has three daughters, one of whom has passed away; seven grand-children, one of whom has passed away; and seven great-grandchildren.

Berard keeps active with hobbies she enjoys including knitting and crossword puzzles. Berard's daughter Jeanne also said that Berard is still an avid reader, reading two newspapers every day, and that she plays card games every night after dinner.

Although she never thinks of herself as "old," Berard credits some of her longevity with living a healthy lifestyle. "I never smoked, never drank. I think that helped," she said.

Berard said when she was told that she would be the recipient of the Golden Cane, she was taken aback. "I was surprised. I also didn't think it was going to be such a big thing," she said of the gathering to celebrate both the cane presentation as well as her birthday.

As for the cane, Berard and her daughter both said it will be used as decoration in the house for now. "My daughter said I can't walk with a cane, because I walk funny with it!" Berard laughed.


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