After more than a century of good health and high spirits, lifelong Windham resident Ethel Verrill, 106, died of natural causes last week at the Ledgewood Manor nursing home.

“Right until the end, she was very sharp and bright,” said grandson Stephen Verrill, 52, of Melbourne, Fla. He said his grandmother looked and acted about the same during the five decades he knew her with little sign of wear.

Family members said the great-great-grandmother had developed a little short-term memory loss recently, but otherwise was in full control of her mind right up to the end. She loved board games and exercised her brain by solving crosswords puzzles and reading the Bible.

“She didn’t follow any diet,” said Stephen Verrill. “She ate what she wanted and didn’t overindulge.” The only medication she took was a small daily thyroid pill.

Ethel Verrill’s son, Clayton Verrill, 78, of Windham, spoke with her two days before she died Monday, May 28, and said she was as lively as ever. He said he felt “blessed and very lucky” that he got to spend as many years with her as he did.

“We saw her enjoy a lot of living,” he said.

Born Ethel Stella Cobb on April 27, 1901, Ethel grew up on a Highland Cliff Road farm that her family still runs and enjoyed a close relationship with her father. She graduated from high school in 1918 and had five children with Fred Verrill, her husband of 60 years.

She was a lifelong member of the Highland Cliff Advent Christian Church and is remembered by her family as being deeply involved in matters of faith. She spent a lot of time making crafts and picking blueberries and strawberries.

She had two falling accidents in the 1970s, one on the ice and another on a loose rug, and had both her hips replaced. She was confined to a wheelchair toward the end of her life but still attended church every Sunday until a few years ago around the time she started to live at Ledgewood Manor.

Grandson Stephen Verrill said he thinks her positive attitude and lifestyle is responsible for her longevity.

“She didn’t worry,” he said. “She didn’t fret on about problems she had no control over.”

Bearer of the cane

In 2001, Ethel Verrill was awarded the Boston Post Cane as recognition of being the oldest resident of Windham, following the death of previous holder Elma Jordan.

In 1906, the Boston Post newspaper distributed 431 canes made of African ebony wood to New England towns. These canes had an inscription on their 14-carat gold heads that read:

“PRESENTED BY THE BOSTON POST to the OLDEST CITIZEN of” and was followed by the name of the individual town and state.

The publicity stunt has outlived the newspaper, which faded away in the 1950s. Windham Town Clerk Linda Morrill said most towns have lost their canes and Windham took actions to keep that from happening. A replica was made by Windham Millwork to give to the record holder and keeps the original in a glass case at the town hall.

“Ethel had it for six years, that’s really good,” said Morrill.

In 2001 Caroline Hawkes was declared the oldest Windham resident, but decided to let Verrill take it. Hawkes was born 26 days before Verrill but said the younger woman had lived here remarkably longer.

Hawkes died on St. Patrick’s Day in 2003.

On Tuesday, Clayton Verrill returned the cane to the town office, along with a wooden display holder he crafted in his workshop.

Morrill said the application process to find the oldest Windham resident will take several weeks. She can be reached at 892-1900 for more information.

EtherVerrill1918: Ethel Verrill’s yearbook picture from 1918OriginalBostonPostCane: The original Boston Post Cane from 1909 sits in a display case at the town hall.Replica Cane: The town hands out this replica to prevent the original from being lost.


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