By Anne O’Connor
TOWNSEND — Bill Gionet, Townsend’s oldest resident, received a rare honor this month. The 100-year-old retired carpenter was given the Boston Post cane at a ceremony attended by town officials and residents.
The tradition began when the Boston Post, a newspaper, created a cane for each Massachusetts town to be presented to the oldest living man, Selectman Nick Thalheimer said during the presentation.
Many towns have lost their canes over the last century, but Townsend still has the original cane, one year older than the most recent honoree. Gionet will keep a pin in honor of holding the cane, and can borrow the cane for special occasions, according to Town Clerk Sue Funaiole.
Gionet and his wife Thelma, 97, have been in town a long time. She was born in town and taught fourth grade at the Spaulding School. Gionet moved to town from Shirley after the couple married.
“We went out seven years and she finally caught me,” he said while laughing.
He built their home next to the school where she worked. “It was a beautiful house he made,” Thelma said.
It took some time for Gionet to settle into his new community. The young husband was shipped off to the South Pacific on the USS Harmon, a destroyer during World War II. He missed his wife. “For three years I didn’t see her,” Gionet said.
The long trip home took three and a half weeks.
Their only child, Kenneth, was born nine months after the machinist mate 2nd class returned home to Townsend.
The elderly couple shared stories of how life was when they met between the world wars. Ballroom dancing was popular. In fact, they met at a dance.
“We were dancers,” Thelma said. “She was quite a good dancer,” he replied.
The couple would travel to Lowell, Dracut and Whalom Park to see nationally known acts. Gionet said bars in the area built extra rooms just for dancing.
The Boston Garden was one of their favorite destinations to see big orchestras. “It was a lot of fun,” he said.
Life has changed in many ways since it took nearly a month to travel home from the South Pacific. One of the biggest changes Gionet has seen is the use of computers. His son went into the field when they were looking for “a young fellow” to learn the new technology.
The Gionets now make their home in the Apple Valley Center in Ayer.