Trio of Milford’s Ledgwood Bay residents pass century mark
MILFORD – Reaching 100 years is not as unusual as it used to be, but three residents of Ledgewood Bay in Milford have all passed the century mark.
It is a milestone none of them gave much thought to, they said, until they reached it. They were much too busy living, and they are still taking active part in whatever is being offered.
Blanche Belanger, 102, Verbal Dyer, 100, and Albin “Windy” Windyka, 100, met recently in the facility’s library to talk about the past 100 years and what they had lived through: Two world wars, the Great Depression, the flu epidemic of 1918, plus their work, raising families and changing to a computerized world.
While coming from completely different backgrounds they agreed on a few things. They credited their long life and present good health to a life of hard work and happy marriages.
Dyer was born and grew up in Iowa where her family had a large farm where they raised grain.
“I was the second of 10 children,” she said, “so I did a lot of baby-sitting. Maybe that’s why I decided to have only two. But we were all very close and still are.”
She was given her unusual first name by her mother, she said. “There was someone she knew with that name. She told me I’d never meet another Verbal and I haven’t.”
She started work at age 12 and later attended night school. Over the years, Dyer worked in a telephone company, in the office of a machine company and as secretary to the principal at the school her children attended.
“They had just started computers when I left,” she said, “so I never learned that.”
Her father died young, “And my mother was left with four small children. The older ones had to help out, so that’s what I did.”
She met her husband when she was 15. He died in 1998 after 60 years of marriage.
“When he died in 1998, I never thought I’d reach 2000, but here I am,” Dyer said.
Belanger was born in Canada and moved to New Hampshire when she was 11. During the Great Depression, she lived in Nashua where her father worked in one of the textile mills, as did one of her sisters.
Her husband worked in the Pine Valley Mill in Milford for 24 years, she said, and she lived in Wilton for 40 years.
Her husband died young, at 55.
Belanger never learned to drive a car.
“When I worked, I walked to work,” she said. “I worked really hard and never thought I’d reach 100.”
But not driving was not a handicap since she had family help. She volunteered for 18 years at her church and for 24 years with Meals on Wheels.
Windyka grew up near Springfield, Mass.
“They call me Windy because of my last name,” he said, pronouncing it the Polish way. “I was the oldest of five, and I never went to high school. They got me a job in a factory at 14 and I made 48 cents an hour. I was running machinery, weaving fabric. I had to fold the fabric to be sent to the (clothing) manufacturer.”
He was paid in cash, he recalled, but most of it went to his family.
“My father had a tough time supporting his family. All I kept for me was the change,” Windyka said.
He recalled the enactment of the first minimum wage law, “then I got a dollar an hour.”
He was involved in the making of jersey cloth. “I had to know that machine,” he said. But he did such a good job the “boss honored me by giving me a chair, a good solid chair,” which he still has after 80 years.
But Windyka said, “The company moved down South and I was out of a job.”
He wasn’t allowed to serve in World War II, he said, “because I was the oldest boy. My three younger brothers went. My brother was fighting the Japanese and got wounded twice.”
Windyka loves sports, he said, and played baseball, softball and tennis.
He recalled a visit to Fenway Park where he caught a foul ball hit by Dom DiMaggio. There were others reaching for it, he said, a little smugly, “but I got that ball.”
He met his wife, “my sweetheart,” while on a bike ride in Massachusetts. It was “love at first sight. We had a wonderful life.” They were married for 75 years.
They all recalled the Great Depression as “being very hard,” but Dyer said, living on a farm, they had enough to eat and were better off than city people.
They have all adapted to assisted living, all continue to exercise regularly and join in activities.
Dyer said she gave up her driver’s license when she moved to Ledgewood. The last time she renewed it, “I waited until the very last minute. I was 90 and I didn’t think they’d give me one. I had the license until I was 96 or 97. When I came here, I didn’t need my car.”
Windyka is still involved in textile manufacture in a way. His current hobby is doing needlepoint over plastic making such things as Christmas tree ornaments.
He was required, he said, while working to attend “continuation school,” where he learned to operate a table saw.
“I made lots of furniture for friends and family,” he said and still has some of those pieces.
He and his wife enjoyed traveling, he said, and made trips to Hawaii and to Europe.
“In my young days, I liked to drive.” His favorite car was a Dodge Neon. “I drive that car until I was 90 and turned in my license. Sold it to my granddaughter.”
So, they agreed, maybe to reach 100 you just keep on doing things, stay active.
These three certainly do that.