TOWNSEND -- Townsend resident Edna Burnham had spent nearly a century collecting her own version of Massachusetts history through once-in-a-lifetime experiences, many long since past, that few other people can still say they have witnessed. Now, she has one more to add to her repertoire: Being dubbed the town's oldest living resident.
On Nov. 2, one day before her 97th birthday, Burnham sat surrounded by three generations of descendants and dozens of friends at the Townsend Senior Center, the guest of honor in a celebration of her longevity. That afternoon, Burnham became the most recent recipient of Townsend's Boston Post Cane.
The seven-foot long, ebony town heirloom, which was been in existence for over a century, is traditionally bestowed upon the town's oldest living resident by the Board of Selectmen. Stepping in for Selectman Nick Thalheimer, who was unable to attend, was Police Lt. David Profit.
"Look at that, the policemen chased me down," Burnham joked to a room of chuckles as Profit took the floor.
Profit said he was honored to be able to participate in the Boston Post Cane ceremony for Burnham, who has long been volunteering at the Senior Center and is well known amongst the staff and regular visitors.
"She represents great longevity within the community and represents great wisdom here in the Senior Center. Her wit and humor continues to carry people on in the Senior Center," said Profit.
The Boston Post Cane was created in 1909 by Edwin Grozier, publisher of the Boston Post newspaper. Grozier had 700 canes manufactured and capped with gold heads, to be distributed to towns throughout the Commonwealth. The canes were originally only bestowed on the oldest living man in town, but after much controversy, they were made available to women in 1939.
In the last 30 years in Townsend, said Profit, the cane has been given to seven women and one man.
"It seems like women live longer than men, anyway," said Profit.
Now, 103 years after its creation, Townsend is one of only a few Massachusetts towns that still possesses its original cane. Because of that, said Senior Center Director Christine Clish, recipients are not able to keep the heirloom itself.
"Now the town keeps the cane at Town Hall locked in a vault," said Clish.
But the cane is still available to Burnham to use for special occasions.
"If Edna has an event that she would like to borrow the cane for the day, all she has to do is contact the town clerk," said Clish.
As a keepsake, Burnham was given a gold pin, a miniature replica of the cane itself. Profit also presented her with a plague on behalf of the Board of Selectmen.
Burnham was born in 1915 in Springfield, where she grew up and went to school. After graduating, Burnham went on to work in the same town as a banker in what is now TD Bank. In 1938, she married her husband Charles Burnham. Over the next five years, her family doubled with the birth of her two children, Bob and Carol. After retiring at the age of 64, Burnham spent her days volunteering at her local library. Twelve years ago, she moved in with her daughter's family in Townsend; now, four generations reside on the same property, divided into two houses. For the past three years, she has been volunteering at the Senior Center.
"She's the most popular lady here," said Clish.
Although her son, Bob, has since moved to Colorado, he made the trip out with his wife to see his mother honored at the event.
"I'm very pleased to still have her here and active," he said.
"It's so exciting, and it gives me something to look forward to," said granddaughter Jill Burdick.
Burnham said she felt blessed to be the cane's most recent recipient.
"It's a honor," she said. "And I never thought I'd make it to this age, so it's doubly so."
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