Merrimack resident still going strong at age 100
MERRIMACK – When Helen Hokonson moved to her son’s home on the shore of Naticook Lake in 2008, she was, in a way, coming back home.
The house was once her family’s summer cottage, which her parents bought in 1930.
Hokonson, who celebrated 100 years on June 21, is confined to a wheelchair by a leg injury, but she continues to care for two flower boxes on her back deck, as well as three large pots that hold an herb garden, a large tomato plant and a blueberry bush.
She also has several bird feeders, including an elaborate one for hummingbirds, and half an orange on the deck railing, which she said attracts orioles.
"It’s kind of hard to look at the lake and not be able to go swimming," said Hokonson, who pointed to an island across the water. "We used to swim around that island."
She added, "I miss not being able to get out in my garden."
The injury seems not to have dampened Hokonson’s spirits. She is bright and bubbly, although a little hard of hearing.
"I do what I can," she said. "I fold the laundry, read, do the crossword puzzles and word searches."
Hokonson grew up in Wilton, one of the three daughters of Judge Harold Cheever and his wife, Nellie. She graduated from Wilton High School in 1932, and then attended Somerville (Mass.) Hospital Nurses Training.
"When I got my R.N. in 1935," she said, "I stayed there, as a nurse in the operating room, until I got married."
Then, she said, began a life "of living everywhere."
Hokonson lived at different times in Geneva, Ill., Iowa, Ohio, Washington and Northern California as her husband, Charles Hokonson, pursued his career, working at several professions. At the start of World War II, he attended the U.S. Naval Academy to become an instructor.
When he was stationed overseas, she said, "I came back to Wilton and stayed with my parents."
After the war, they returned to Illinois, where she worked as a school nurse.
"My whole married life was moving," she said. "We lived for 25 years in Geneva."
They retired to Naples, Fla.
"When he died, I couldn’t manage alone, so my wonderful son brought me here," Hokonson said. "He has arranged it so I can watch the birds over this beautiful view."
Her son, Charles "Hoki" Hokonson Jr., said he purchased the family camp about 1970 after the death of his grandparents.
"They left it to the three daughters, but one had passed away and the other lives in the Midwest," he said. "I gradually made it into a year-round house."
Hokonson’s sister Dorothy will be 101 later this year.
"I never thought I’d live to this age," Hokonson said. "I was swimming and golfing into my 80s." With a neighbor’s assistance, she takes frequent walks around the neighborhood.
"She’s a staunch Republican," Hoki said.
"She got a nice birthday card from (Sen.) Kelly Ayotte."
"But the world had certainly changed," Hokonson said. She occasionally returns to Wilton, riding around looking at places she remembers. Her family home on Whiting Hill has changed little, but other neighborhoods have, she said, "into housing developments.
It’s kind of sad."
She recalled Lawrence Putnam, whose son Dick still owns the clothing store on Main Street, and "the candy store with the big candy cane." She spoke of the Whiting Dairy and the former Wilton High School she attended, about long walks around town with her sisters and events on Carnival Hill.
Hokonson also has a daughter who lives in Arizona, three grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and one great-great-granddaughter.
Hoki has equipped the house with ramps over doorsills and added a front ramp for her.
"I get around like a pro," she said, smiling broadly.