CARIBOU, Maine — When Anna Roberts woke up on her 105th birthday, the lifelong Caribou resident was unprepared for the number of family, friends, city employees and even state senators who were there to celebrate.
But they were all there on Tuesday, July 5, to honor Roberts, Caribou’s oldest resident. City Manager Penny Thompson presented Roberts with a replica of the Boston Post Cane, reinstating a New England tradition that dates back to at least the mid-1920s in Caribou.
LATEST MAINE NEWS
The Boston Post Cane tradition started in 1909 when Edwin A. Grozier, publisher of the former Boston Post newspaper, gave 700 towns in New England a gold-headed ebony cane to be presented to each community’s oldest male resident and passed down to the next eligible person after that. Women became eligible for the cane in 1930.
Thompson said that recent efforts to locate Caribou’s original Boston Post Cane and learn the last time it was given out have been unsuccessful. But that did not stop Thompson from searching for a replica and presenting it to Roberts once she learned of the woman’s status as oldest resident.
“Caribou has an older population, and we need to celebrate that,” Thompson said. “It is a gift to grow old, one that not everyone is able to achieve.”
Other celebrants included State Senate President Troy Jackson; Trisha House, local representative for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ office; and Roberts’ caregivers and family.
Roberts said she was quite surprised to hear that she is Caribou’s oldest resident and a bit self-conscious about all the attention.
“I have no special secret [to living a long life]. It just happened,” Roberts said.
But Roberts does credit her 45 years of working for the city of Caribou as one reason why she has been proud to call Caribou home.
In 1934, just a year after she graduated from high school early at age 15, Roberts went to work at the town office as a bookkeeper. Before Caribou became a city in 1968, Roberts was only one of four employees, which also included a welfare program officer, a town treasurer and Grover M. Hardison, the first town manager.
“Back then we took all our notes down by hand. After I left, they switched to computers,” Roberts said.
Roberts went on to work for four more managers: William B. Burns, who served from 1945 to 1953; Donald E. Chick, from 1953 to 1956; Charles D. Hatch from 1956 to 1974; and Terry St. Peter from 1974 until she retired in 1979.
“I enjoyed the work and I enjoyed the people I worked for,” Roberts said. “Some of them became very good friends.”
St. Peter, a former Caribou reporter for Bangor Daily News, remembered Roberts as a friendly and gracious employee who helped him adjust to a career in city government after he suddenly became Caribou’s manager.
In 1974, St. Peter was hired as the assistant city manager. City Manager Hatch had a stroke that made it impossible for him to continue working during St. Peter’s first week as assistant, so suddenly he was the manager.
He was impressed with her competence in bookkeeping and her communication skills, and said she always helped him figure things out in the five years they worked together.
Roberts learned about work ethic and dedication from her parents, potato farmers Silas and Mercy Spooner, she said.
The Spooners farmed on East Presque Isle Road, one mile from the one-room Green Ridge schoolhouse that Roberts and her older brother, the late Kenneth Spooner, attended.
Though Roberts could have finished middle school at the Green Ridge School, she chose to live with relatives on High Street so that she could attend Caribou High School. In those years, Caribou High was located on Glenn Street, now the home of the city’s new pre-K to eighth grade school.
“I thought that would be best because I had skipped two grades,” Roberts said about her decision.
With all of Roberts’ relatives being from Caribou, she never felt the urge to move anywhere else. She and her husband, the late Prescott Roberts, lived on High Street for much of their 50-year marriage. The couple married in 1943.
“We didn’t have children, but we had four dogs, which I guess people call ‘fur babies’ these days,” Roberts said.
After retiring at age 62, Roberts became committed to trying new things. She was an avid skier for many years and joined a women’s bowling league. She learned to ski because her former co-workers gave her a pair of skis and related gear at her retirement party.
“I wouldn’t say that I was a champion, but I always liked the trail going to Madawaska Lake,” Roberts said.
In more recent years, age-related issues have caused Roberts to participate in fewer physical activities, but she enjoys spending time with family and playing a good game of cribbage. Though she has not traveled far recently, Roberts is proud to still live in her hometown.
“I’ve never had a reason to want to leave. Caribou was home and it still is,” Roberts said.