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Louise Thompson Honored as Oldest Citizen

When the practice of bestowing a walking stick to the oldest resident in town was started by Edwin Grozier, publisher of the Boston Post newspaper, 100 years ago, Louise Thompson was just a toddler.

Born in 1906 in Saxtons River to Lew and Minnie (Hoth) Thompson, Louise started her life in this small village. She attended the local elementary school, graduated from Vermont Academy in 1924, Middlebury College in 1928, and then earned a graduate degree in social work from Smith College.

After a long career as a social worker throughout New England, she returned to Saxtons River, where she continued to be involved in various aspects of the community, as the organist at Christ's Church, piano accompanist for local musical productions, and member of the Nature Club and many church committees.

She was also the honorary marshall for the Fourth of July parade in Saxtons River.

Having celebrated her 103rd birthday on April 23, Thompson's life has slowed down in the last decade or so, but she still plays Scrabble regularly, works on the crossword puzzle in the Brattleboro Reformer, and always has at least one book she's reading.

She also has a wide circle of friends and family who stop in for a chat or a game of Scrabble. One of these friends, former Saxtons River resident Jim VanderWoude, paid a visit in April of this year.

Though he's relocated to Holland, MI, with his wife AnnaMae, Saxtons River is dear to their hearts, as is their friendship with Louise . Jim, a skilled craftsperson, knew the story of giving a cane to the eldest citizen of a town and thought it would be a good idea to institute that tradition in Saxtons River, starting with Louise.

When he returned to Michigan, he consulted a book on walking sticks and fashioned a cane to send her. The raw materials he chose are meant to last: horn from an Indian water buffalo for the handle, witch hazel wood for the shaft, and sterling silver for the collar connecting the two parts and also for the ferrule at the bottom.

The completed project is a "work of art," as Louise described it when she was presented with the cane. It reminded her of the Bible passage in Luke, in which a farmer sowed a seed and was in turn rewarded one hundredfold.

Louise explained the allusion: "A long time ago I had a nice cane, which I gave away to someone who needed it, and now, years later, I'm the recipient of this beautiful cane," a fitting comment coming from a woman whose one hundred plus years have always modeled that strong circle of giving and receiving.

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