AYER -- One cold, rainy, late fall morning several years ago, a small, slender woman entered the waiting room of a local car dealership that was already pretty packed. Standing room only, first-come, first served.
Stylishly dressed for the weather, the elderly lady seemed a bit frail but she moved with purpose. A customer stood, offered her his seat. She politely declined, walking to the counter to inquire about her car, brought in earlier for an oil change. Was it ready?
Employees greeted her by name. No wonder she looked so familiar. This was Zelda Moore, civically active matriarch of a prominent family in town and one of Ayer's most ardent historians.
The car would be parked out front for her, she was told. After she left, some folks commented on how marvelous it was to see someone her age still active and independent.
Well deserved respect aside, she probably would not have welcomed being marveled at. She was just another regular customer with a busy schedule, appointments to keep. Well into her 80s then, Mrs. Moore still conducted her own business, thank you very much.
Born Zelda Fitch in the nearby town of Groton 95 years ago on Christmas Eve, Mrs. Moore died on Jan. 20 at Life Care Center of Nashoba Valley in Littleton.
Until a few years ago, when she moved to River Court Residences in West Groton, Zelda Moore lived in her own home on Snake Hill Road, hiking the trails through woods near her house with her dog, a chocolate lab named Booty.
"She was very outdoorsy," recalled Andrew Anderson, president of the Ayer Gun and Sportsmen's Club, which abuts Moore's property. She and her dog used to walk to the club every Sunday morning for breakfast, he said.
Anderson said he'd known her since he was a junior club member and he's worked for some time for the family business, G.V. Moore Lumber Company, a fixture on Ayer's Main Street for many years.
Established by George V. Moore and later expanded by his son, Calvin, who has since retired, the company is now owned and operated by Calvin's son, C. J. Moore, one of Zelda's three grandsons.
Anderson said Mrs. Moore supported local Boy Scout troops, as did her late husband, George V. Moore. Two of her grandsons are Eagle Scouts. "She was very generous with her time and donations," he said.
"She was always helpful," recalled former Shirley Town Clerk Sylvia Shipton, who has family ties to Ayer and remembers Zelda Moore as "unfailingly kind" with a love for local history. "She looked formidable ... businesslike, but she was a very warm person who did many kind things anonymously," Shipton said.
She also recalled that Mrs. Moore was very interested in Shaker history and talked to older people in the area about it. "I hope there are notes," she said.
Ayer Historical Commissioner Ruth Rhonemus expressed a similar hope about the genesis of vintage photos, documents and other Ayer artifacts Mrs. Moore collected and kept in the "library room" at the Page-Moore building, which also houses the Billiards Café owned by her son Calvin.
Although Mrs. Moore officially served on the commission for only about a year, she stayed engaged as a member of Freedoms Way and other groups and often launched projects of her own, Rhonemus said.
For example, she conducted a series of taped interviews with the late Ralph Richardson, storied Ayer historian and longtime Historic Commissioner, who once owned the former Page building named for his mother and rebuilt it after "the great fire" in 1872.
Noting her status as a Gold Star Mother, Rhonemus said Zelda Moore attended Ayer's Memorial Day ceremonies every year. As for the collection of maps, deeds, documents and items on display in Mrs. Moore's museum in that building, they were acquired when other buildings Richardson owned on Main Street were demolished, she said.
Noting another historic tie-in, Rhonemus said the library room was once the office of Attorney H.J. Holden, who was a member of one of Shirley's founding families.
Shirley Historical Society curator Meredith Marcincewicz confirmed that Mrs. Moore's interviews with Richardson were indeed transcribed from the tapes and have been saved.
"She was always very generous" about sharing information, Marcincewicz said, adding that it was typical of Mrs. Moore to be on the lookout for historic projects underway in Shirley or Groton as well as Ayer and to reach out if she had anything helpful to add.
Former Ayer selectman and longtime resident Frank Maxant said the Ralph Richardson interviews were conducted over many Sunday afternoons and recorded on a reel-to-reel tape machine.
Rather like Mitch Album's "Tuesdays With Morrie," Zelda Moore's Sunday afternoon conversations with Richardson tapped into a gold mine, perhaps revealing a rich vein that even his own writings didn't fully explore. Now, it's recorded history.
Maxant called it a treasure. "People will mine that resource for years to come," he said.
Asked to share his memories of Zelda Moore, Maxant said his family and hers were "great friends" for many years. "As the children grew up ... she was the mom," he said. Maxant's father was George V. Moore's young scoutmaster, he said, and the bond lasted.
The Moore family had more than its share of tragedy, Maxant continued, noting that of George and Zelda's five sons, only Calvin is still living. Baby Moore died at birth in 1943, Jonathan was killed in an auto accident in 1965, Douglas was killed in the Vietnam War in 1968, and Victor succumbed to an illness.
But Zelda soldiered on. In her later years, widowed and no longer responsible for a household, she shone in her own right. "She became a giant," Maxant said. "She did not call attention to herself" while doing much for the town, helping to preserve Ayer's architecture and history.
For example, she was a driving force, actively and financially, behind major town building projects such as the Page building restoration and that of the old bell tower at the Federated Church, where she was a longtime member.
Historical Commissioner Barry E. Schwarzel said Moore's papers, including the Richardson interviews, were immeasurably helpful to him in writing his book, an edition in the "Images of America" series that chronicles Ayer history.
Her documents included Fort Devens history, names of people who first rented, then sold their land to the U.S. Government, he said. And he spent hours in Zelda's museum in the Page-Moore building, poring over her collection, reading about Camp Devens, Sandy Pond and so much more of Ayer's rich history.
Her work also inspired him to move forward with projects the Historical Commission is working on now, such as restoring the old fire house and the fountain out front, constructed in 1899 by the Women's Christian Temperance Society. Key to accomplishing that goal is securing a place for the building on the National Historic Register, he said, and the organization is currently seeking Community Preservation Act funding and support from selectmen to that end.
It's the kind of mission Zelda might have tackled with relish.
In August 2012, Schwarzel and Rhonemus visited Zelda Moore at River Court in Groton, where they presented her with a plaque to honor her many contributions to the town, preserving its historic treasures, he said, including the Page-Moore building.
Schwarzel recalled pictures Calvin showed him of his mother during that restoration. "She climbed out on the roof" to survey the work, he said.
Zelda appreciated the plaque, Schwarzel said, but she was more moved by the flowers they brought her. "Those are for me?" she asked. "She was an amazing woman!"
Marge Darby, of Harvard, a founder of Freedom's Way, expressed similar sentiments.
Freedom's Way National Heritage Area is a nonprofit, donation- and grant-funded organization whose stated mission is to bring "revolutionary ideas of American freedom, democracy, conservation and justice" to 48 Massachusetts and New Hampshire communities in its network, including Ayer, Harvard, Groton and Shirley.
"She was one of our first board members," Darby said. "She was an absolute sweetheart."
Zelda Moore was especially helpful when the group first started out, Darby said.
Members worked from their homes until MassDevelopment gave Freedom's Way a space in Devens, at 94 Jackson Road.
With a new office to outfit, Mrs. Moore, who had office experience herself, knew they'd need supplies and would drop by with gifts such as pencils, paper and other useful items, Darby said. "She was a lovely woman and a wonderful supporter of our work."