During their Old Home Day/250th Anniversary celebrations on July 10, Sanbornton Selectmen Bob Lambert, John Olmstead and Jim Dick were pleased to present the Boston Post Cane to the town's oldest resident, Jean Auger, who will turn 96 in October. (Courtesy Photo) (click for larger version)
July 22, 2021SANBORNTON – As the Town of Sanbornton celebrated Old Home Day and the town's 250th Anniversary, another special event also took place on July 10, when selectmen presented the Boston Post Cane to 95-year-old Jean Auger.
Boston Post canes were first distributed to more than 400 New England communities in 1909, courtesy of Boston Post newspaper publisher Edwin Grozier. The canes were part of his publicity campaign for the paper and he had them specially made from mahogany with a gold knob on top. Intended to honor residents for their longevity, the canes were originally awarded to the oldest male of each community, residing there for at least 10 years, then passed on to the next when that person died or moved to another town. In 1930 the requirements changed to include women as recipients and over the past 112 years the passing of the Boston Post Cane has been a treasured tradition.
For the Augers, the presentation was especially exciting as Jean is the second in his family to receive the honor. In the 1990's his father Alphonse held the cane, too. According to the town clerk's office it is the first time in recent history that two relatives received a Boston Post Cane.
Jean was born at home on the family's farm on Oct. 26, 1925 to Alphonse and Helene Auger. To this day he still lives in that home where he not only grew up, but later raised his own family, including four sons (one who died), one daughter, 11 grandchildren, and 22 great-grandchildren.
Until 1968, he worked on the farm before taking a job as a laborer with the Sanbornton Highway Department. When Road Agent Bob Gilman passed away in 1973, Jean was appointed to the position temporarily then successfully ran for the fulltime job of Road Agent the following year. His daughter Carole Barbour said he was elected 22 more times until he was narrowly defeated by 11 votes in 1998 at the age of 72.
"He never had signs and didn't do any politicking. He always said 'My work speaks for itself. Elect me on how I do my job,'" she recalled.
In 1999, the town called on Jean to fill the position one more time when the newly elected road agent left, but he retired for good in 2000 when the next election was held.
Jean is not one to talk about himself but his wife of 70 years, Evelyn, said he never hesitated to come to the aide of the people of Sanbornton.
"If someone called with a problem in the middle of the night he wouldn't come right out and say he'd be there, but the whole time he was talking to them he was getting dressed to leave," Evelyn said.
He also was grateful to those who helped him do his job so each Christmas he sent chocolates to the women who ran the dispatch office for Belknap County as a thank you for "putting up with him," she added.
When Jean was still Gilman's assistant in 1969, Evelyn remembered a blizzard that February, followed just a few days later by another Nor'easter that dumped more than three feet of snow on the town. Her husband was gone for four days and three nights as they worked to clear Sanbornton's more than 50 miles of roadways.
"He didn't even come home. He'd catch a few hours sleep at the garage then head back out," she said. "On one of the nights Bob's wife made them a hot meal and he actually fell asleep in the chair."
In those days the crew was paid a flat rate- no overtime pay and no vacation or holiday pay. It was a hard job, she said. In fact, one year, the family planned to go to California to see her mother. But, even though the plans were made, at the last minute the town was ready to start a road project and Jean said he had to be there to take care of it.
"He always put his job first. He wanted to make sure everyone was safe," she said.
Jean is back enjoying life on his farm once again and while he is not one to attend many town events other than elections, he was excited to be part of the Old Home Day parade this year.
"We were very excited when we found out a day or so before that he was getting the Boston Post Cane, but we weren't sure how he'd feel about it," daughter Carole said.
The family told him he didn't have to speak if he didn't want to and while he was glad to hear that, they expected him to then say no to an invitation to ride in the parade with the selectmen. Surprisingly he agreed to it.
Jean didn't have to be at the parade route until 10:30 a.m. that Sat. morning, but it turned out he was more excited than they ever thought he would be.
Evelyn said, "He woke us up at six that morning ready to go!"
Auger's recognition as the town's oldest resident comes after the passing of 100-year-old William Blackwood, the previous Boston Post Cane recipient. Blackwood died from COVID-19 on April 15, just one week after the death of his beloved wife Barbara.