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In Sanbornton, Boston Post Cane passes to Brenda Connelly

Brenda Connelly, 97, is Sanbornton's newest recipient of the Boston Post Cane. The 97-year-old has lived in Sanbornton since moving there with her husband Robert in 1968. Donna Rhodes. (click for larger version)
July 29, 2009
SANBORNTON — It was a surprise to Brenda Gilman Connelly when family, friends, neighbors and Sanbornton Town Officials showed up on her doorstep last Friday bearing gifts. Even more of a surprise was the introduction of granddaughter and great-grandson of Dr. Winnifred Chase, Kara and Liam Downes, who were there to pass the Boston Post Cane to Connelly. Dr. Chase, the last honoree, died on May first of this year just before her 100th birthday. Presenting the cane to the next recipient, said Kara, was a pleasure.

Connelly sat quietly in the living room as she was bestowed with flowers and gifts from well-wishers. Her daughter Doree, son-in-law Amos and great-granddaughter Kayla all traveled from Lee and Nottingham to enjoy the presentation with her.

Born the youngest of five girls on Sept. 16, 1912 in Strong, Maine, Connelly has had a storied life, one she loves sharing with others. She told rollicking tales of her adventures in the outdoors but also talked about somber times, like when her father was found crushed to death while working in the family's woodlot. Connelly recalled her grandparents making the awful discovery.

"It was a terrible shock," she said. "The saddest day of my life."

She went on to graduate high school in June of 1930 from Wilton Academy where she enjoyed many sports. Arriving at home one day she found Robert Connelly with her mother, asking permission to marry her. Brenda was caught off-guard and could only reply "I guess so" when he proposed. Regardless of her surprise, they married a month later on July 3, 1930 and enjoyed 59 years together before he passed in 1989.

Robert worked in woolen mills and they eventually moved from Maine to Lebanon, where she raised her 2-year-old daughter Doree. Two sons the couple also had did not survive to "extend the family," as her son-in-law Amos conveyed. The Connelly's moved to Sanbornton in 1968, and she has lived there ever since.

Never having held a job, Connelly worked hard all the same throughout her life. She cooked, cleaned, tended her gardens, raised her children and for fun, went hunting and fishing with her husband.

"In 1956 we had a cabin built in Pittsburg," Connelly recalled. "We spent a lot of time up there."

An avid outdoorswoman, Connelly chuckled when asked about her biggest hunting trophy.

"I shot a buck once," she said. "I walked over, walked around him and then patted him on the head. I hooted to my husband to let him know. Then, when I turned around, the deer got up and I thought 'Oh no you don't,' but he did. He got up and walked away."

She got a lot of good-humored teasing from her husband the next day when he shot a deer. "See," he told her, "mine don't get up and leave!"

Today she still deals with wildlife but without a gun in tow. Many a neighboring bear has dropped by to visit her wooded backyard. If they find a birdfeeder is empty, they look in the windows for something to eat. One bear last year even took out a window screen while looking for a snack.

"I've had another one out there while I was hanging laundry on the clothesline. He watched me and I watched him," she said with a smile. "Then I came in and he rolled around on the grass and stretched out to watch cars go by. I don't holler, I don't fuss at them. I just keep quiet."

Connelly enjoys the wildlife and tries not to bother the bears as long as they don't bother her.

"One looked in my bedroom window one night, so I got a flashlight and shined it at him," she remembered. "He didn't like that so down he went and that was that."

Today she still holds a driver's license. Having just successfully passed her driver's test, her license was renewed for five more years. Neighbors report she is a great driver still and they never think twice when they see her coming down the road.

"I don't drive at night," Connelly said. "I go out early and run my errands and do my laundry and that's all."

An avid sports fan, she was thrilled when the Red Sox won the World Series but also enjoys the Patriots.

"I just love football," she grinned. "And golf? Well, the last three holes are the best."

She has also skiied, snowshoed and enjoyed almost any outdoor sport through the years.

Connelly is proud of her family today, she said. The last of the five Gilman daughters, she is a mother of one, grandmother to eight, great-grandmother of 26 and boasts four great-great-grandchildren.

"Imagine that," she said. "I'm a part of five generations."

In 2009, the Boston Post Cane is celebrating 100 years of honoring the oldest resident of communities throughout New England. Beginning in 1909 by the Boston Post newspaper, a special cane was presented to 431 towns to be awarded to their oldest resident. The recipient maintains the cane as long as they are alive and reside in the town.

"This is wonderful," Connelly said, the cane held proudly by her side. "Kind of a surprise!"

Varney Smith
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