TOWNSEND -- Only one town resident at a time holds the Boston Post Cane. The honor is reserved for the oldest person in town.

Thelma (Wright) Gionet, 98, will be given the cane by town officials in a ceremony in the near future.

The previous holder was her husband Bill, who passed away on June 8. They were married 70 years.

This could be the first time the Townsend cane has gone from one spouse to another. Both Susan Funaiole, the town clerk, and Chris Clish, the director of the Council on Aging, said they could not recall it happening before.

The cane has been held by members of the same family before. Lori Stevens, who lived to be 102, was the second in her family to receive the cane.

Her mother, Nellie Ballou, who lived to be 105, held it before her. Of course, there was another holder in between, Clish said.

Ballou was the first person to receive the cane after Clish started work at the council in the early 1980s.

Gionet was born in Townsend and taught Grade 4 at the Spaulding School. She and Bill, a young man from Shirley, married before World War II.

The couple went out for seven years before they married and he moved to Townsend.

A professional carpenter, he built their home right next to the school where she taught generations of children.

"It was a beautiful home he made me," she said at the ceremony when he received the cane in 2011.

The couple had one child, their son Kenneth.


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He was born nine months after Bill returned home after a three year absence while serving in the Navy. He was stationed on the USS Harmon, a destroyer in the Pacific during World War II.

The couple enjoyed dancing and traveled around the area to hear and swing to popular dance bands.

"We were dancers," Thelma said.

The tradition of the Boston Post Cane began in 1908. The popular Boston newspaper gave a cane to each of the municipalities in Massachusetts.

The cane was supposed to go to the oldest living man in town. In 1930, the rules changed, allowing the oldest person, man or woman, to receive the cane.

Some canes have been lost over the years but Townsend still has its original cane. It is kept safely in Town Hall.

The holder of the cane receives a pin for everyday wear and can borrow the cane for special occasions, Funaiole said.