By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — It’s a busy weekday morning in Middlebury. The roads are jammed with commuters snaking their way through the village to get to their jobs amid the din of construction on the new Cross Street Bridge.
Meanwhile, students are slamming shut their hallway lockers and grabbing their seats at school desks in anticipation of receiving the day’s lessons.
Irene Lavoie is blissfully oblivious to this rat race whizzing by the window next to her comfy seat at Elderly Services Inc. off Exchange Street. She’s content to sit on the sidelines for a breather — and she’s earned it. Lavoie, a New Haven resident, celebrated her 100th birthday on Wednesday. It would be a landmark anniversary for most of us, but just a marker soon to fade in the rearview mirror for Lavoie.
“I feel great; I don’t know when I’ve seen a doctor,” Lavoie said on Monday as she greeted well-wishers at Elderly Services’ Project Independence.
“Another 100 years!” she proclaimed with a beaming smile.
Lavoie was born on May 20, 1909, in a suburb of Sherbrooke, Canada. William Howard Taft was president of the United States. James Thorpe was readying for his professional baseball debut, a fateful decision that would later force him to forfeit his Olympic medals. The United States Army Signal Corp. Division bought its first military airplane in 1909 — from the Wright brothers.
Lavoie would spend only two years in her native Canada, as she and her large family moved to what she called “a little hole in the wall” in Lyndonville, Vt., in 1911. Her dad was a farmer and was looking for better employment opportunities in the U.S.
Her father demonstrated a strong work ethic that spread through the entire family.
“That’s the trouble with people today; they don’t want to work,” Lavoie said, exhibiting a rare frown on a face that does not come close to betraying her true age.
Lavoie fondly recalled her own first job, as a teenager, making maple sugar candy for a small business in Lyndonville. She’s maintained quite a sweet tooth to this day.
“My vice is eating,” Lavoie, still extremely quick with a wisecrack, said with her trademark smile.
She made sweets for eight years, then met her sweetheart, Anthony, who would become her husband of more than 70 years. When they married, they moved to Massachusetts, not far from Boston, where he worked as a farmer for 22 years. Irene again had her hands full, this time with children, of which they would have five. All five sons and daughters are either retired or deceased.
“They all lived mostly around here; they haven’t traveled very far, which is all right with me,” Lavoie said.
When Lavoie says “around here,” she’s talking about Addison County, where she and her family finally settled for good some 60 years ago. The put down roots in Shoreham, the location of some of the finest farmland in the state.
“I’ve liked it here,” Lavoie said, adding, “I didn’t care for Massachusetts at all.”
Along with raising the couple’s children, Lavoie worked at various jobs outside of the home, including a stint at the former Shoreham Apple Cooperative. While there, well into her 70s, she packed apples with the best of ’em.
Anthony Lavoie died around 12 years ago at the age of 92. But Irene has kept plugging along, with great assistance from her granddaughter Michelle Gorton of New Haven, with whom she has resided for almost a year. She’s been attending Project Independence for nine years.
“I love it here,” she said, taking in the comforting surroundings.
When she isn’t visiting with her younger peers at Elderly Services, Lavoie is engaging in some of her favorite pastimes — needlework, crocheting, eating and watching the Boston Red Sox. Lavoie enjoyed seeing her favorite team win championships in 2004 and 2007, but is one of a dwindling few who can remember the team’s previous title won in 1918. Lavoie was nine at the time, and the Red Sox’s star player was a stout pitcher and slugger named Babe Ruth.
Asked what has contributed to her longevity, Lavoie shrugs her shoulders.
“I’ve taken care of myself,” she said.
“I did carouse a little bit,” she added with a chuckle, “and I’m stubborn. I go my own way.”
Lavoie has never smoked and has never cared for alcohol. But she isn’t shy about filling her plate at dinnertime. Her favorites — along with candy — are fruits, vegetables, biscuits, homemade bread and popcorn. Gorton said her grandmother loves to watch the “Food Network” cable TV channel between meals.
But all the food has not gone to Lavoie’s waistline. She remains tiny and amazingly fit for her age.
“If everyone felt as good as I did, there’d be no doctors,” Lavoie said.
She was scheduled to hold court at a party in her honor at Project Independence on Wednesday, her birthday.
Asked if she was going to have something special on that special day, she replied, “what’s a party without a cake?”
Many family members will undoubtedly be saluting her this week. She has 15 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Gorton hopes to have inherited her grandmother’s longevity.
“My daughter told me this morning ‘you might live to be 100,’” Gorton said.
“I hope so.”