Hollis man marks 100th birthday

When he first moved to Hollis in 1956, Paul Fimbel had a party line telephone and had to go to Pepperell to pick up his mail because with only 2,000 residents, Hollis did not have its own post office.

The longtime resident has seen many changes occur around him, and on Oct. 6 he celebrated his 100th birthday surrounded by family and friends.

What’s his secret to having such a long life? Clean living.

“I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors and been active,” he said. “I did a lot of yard work, played golf, went cross-country skiing. I was never a super athlete but I always stayed active.”

Fimbel grew up in Newark, New Jersey and worked for his family’s company, which manufactured wooden garage doors. The company expanded by purchasing a factory in Nashua, where there was a good labor pool of woodworkers, and Fimbel moved to New Hampshire in 1951 to run that plant.

“I loved New Hampshire from the first day I got here,” said Fimbel. He lived in Nashua for a few years before deciding to build a house. He learned about some land for sale in Hollis from a bowling buddy. He bought the property on the corner of Ridge Road and Worcester from his friend’s daughter, but got so much more. Once he and the owner met, they realized they had a lot in common, including two children from their first marriages.

Paul and Janet got married on Jan. 26, 1956 and lived together in the house they built on the land she sold him. They went on to have two more sons together. Janet died in 2011, and was predeceased by each of their oldest children. He has 14 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren. His brother Edward, eleven and a half years younger, still lives in New Jersey.

“This was a typical country town,” he said regarding his early days in Hollis. “I used to do my shopping in Pepperell, and my doctors were down there. Where the Nashua Mall is used to be Guidmond’s Dairy with lots of cows. I was not a city boy although I was born and raised in the city, but it was a nice open area.”

He reminisced about how he and Janet went skiing at Indian Head in Pepperell, were in the Granite Curling Club at the Nashua Country Club, and used to go square dancing.

“We’d be upstairs in Town Hall one night, then in Nashua the next day or in Pepperell,” he said. “Janet and I had a wonderful life.”

Fimbel can still recite the old office phone number, TUxedo 2-9780. His home telephone number, a party line, was just four digits; the 465 exchange, which was written as HOllis 5, didn’t arrive till later. “People on the party line enjoyed chatting with each other about the happenings of the day,” Fimbel said. “All you had to do is listen in and you would know what was going on in town.”

Fimbel also recalled what a huge deal it was when the Everett Turnpike was built in Nashua.

“There was nothing there but cow pastures, then they put in the highway and a bridge,” he said.

In 1960 the family moved to the first of three homes they built on Love Lane, where their new neighbor was Jeff Smith (Shirley Cohen’s father) who owned Buttonwood Farm at the bottom of the road.

“When we first moved to Love Lane, it was a dirt road,” said his son, Mike Fimbel. “I’ll never forget the cows had to get herded up by Jeff to the fields in what is now Beaver Brook. When those cows were getting herded, you couldn’t get past them, you just had to wait. You also had to watch where you stepped on your way to school.”

Along with the Smith family, the Fimbels donated land to what would become Beaver Brook Association, and both families have remained active in that organization.

The Fimbels hosted the first nursery school in town in their first house on Love Lane. Their youngest son Carl attended school there, but Mike was already in kindergarten.

“I went to nursery school for one day,” said Mike. “I got to skip kindergarten because they were making Easter baskets and I wanted to help.”

The family’s Love Lane property was once part of an orchard. It was maintained by Woodmont, but they were allowed to have as many peaches and apples as they wanted.

“My Dad used to walk through the orchard and see how the apples were doing,” said Mike. “He had a paring knife, and he would cut into them to see if they were ready to eat.”

Mike also recalled that when he was growing up, there were only two schools in town: the brick school near silver lake (Hollis Upper Elementary School today) and the high school, then housed in the historic Farley Building. He recalled that his sisters used to play basketball upstairs at Town Hall, where the auditorium is now. The family also went cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in their backyard, and planted some evergreen trees for their own use.

The family was active in the Congregational Church of Hollis, and Fimbel served as treasurer for many years. He was also a member of the Nashua Rotary Club (Hollis Brookline Rotary wasn’t founded until 1996).

Janet and Paul also belonged to the Happy Travelers Club, a group of residents who gathered to play cribbage and socialize. The club members put money aside each month, and went on two trips over the years, to Scandinavia and Germany.

When asked about his youth, Fimbel described growing up in New Jersey.

“I lived opposite the trolley yards and used to watch the trolley cars,” he said. He graduated from the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken in 1936, with a degree in mechanical engineering. He said he didn’t travel into Manhattan very often, but he did recall taking the ferry across the river to get from his school to 16th Street (the Midtown Tunnel hadn’t been built yet). After he graduated, he went on a cross country car trip with three friends. It took five weeks to reach California, and they often slept in the car alongside the road, without any worries.

Although he did not serve in the military, he worked at the family business, Fimbel Doors, and was busy building overhead doors for the army and navy during World War II. After the war, the demand for manufactured houses rose dramatically, but it was in the decline that eventually followed that led Paul’s father to purchase the bankrupt factory in Nashua. Paul ran the factory until he retired in 1985. The facility remained on Broad Street until it moved to Merrimack in 2000 to make room for the Broad Street Parkway. It is now known as Fimbel-Paunette, and is focused more on retail sales than manufacturing.

Judy Gregoire was hired six years ago to help take care of Janet during her final illness, and is still employed as Paul’s companion. Although he voluntarily gave up driving two years ago, he remains physically healthy and mentally sharp. He still handles his own finances and business affairs, reads the newspaper, and goes out daily.

“He takes walks with his walker or we go for a ride,” said Gregoire. “We go get the mail, we visit Janet in the cemetery, we go to church. He doesn’t stay confined in the house much and gets out every day.”

His party, which happened to be held on Oct. 6, his actual birthday, was only partly a surprise. He knew something was being planned, he just didn’t know who would be there.

His four surviving children were there – Mike Fimbel of Mont Vernon, Debbe Shipman of Hollis, Carl Fimbel of Merrimack, and Nancie Fimbel of Dubai, along with the 14 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren. Approximately 90 guests attended the party, and he received more than 100 cards.

“He is very fortunate to be at home and have the family he has,” said Gregoire.

His final thoughts on how Hollis has changed since he arrived here 57 years ago: “It was a thriving town when I moved in and it’s even more thriving now, more people, more taxable.”