Southampton honors woman, 99, as town’s most senior resident

  • Genevieve Paszko, left, with her daughters, Emily Fitzgerald of Southampton, Joan Rush of Southampton, and Shirley Anop of Chicopee, at the Select Board meeting on Tuesday.  SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/20/2019 12:08:42 AM
Modified: 4/20/2019 12:08:29 AM

SOUTHAMPTON — The Select Board recognized Genevieve Paszko as Southampton’s most senior resident on Tuesday.

Paszko sat nearby in a wheelchair by her daughter, Emily Fitzgerald of Southampton, while Select Board chairman John Martin presented Paszko with a certificate at the Town Hall.

Town officials awarded Paszko with the Boston Post Cane, which is awarded to the oldest resident in many small New England towns. When the award — a cane made of ebony capped with gold — first started in 1909, there were 700 towns that received the cane, and there are more than 400 still in circulation.

Traditionally, the cane was passed on from one elder to the next. In Southampton, the cane is on display at Town Hall. Martin explained at the meeting that the cane will remain there as it has not been returned in the past.

“We are thrilled that Mom, at 99, can certainly still be at home with family care,” Shirley Anop, one of her three daughters, said Friday.

Paszko, of Pequot Road, is the daughter of Polish immigrants and was born on Jan. 3, 1920, in Holyoke. She is the oldest of 11 sisters and has three daughters, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Her family members live in Holyoke, Easthampton, Chicopee and Southampton.

After Paszko graduated from the eighth grade at Holyoke’s Joseph P. Metcalf school, she began to take care of her siblings and work on a 60-acre farm in Southampton owned by her family.

At 18, Paszko met her future husband, Stephen, at a polka dance at Mountain Park in Holyoke. Stephen was a son of Polish immigrants born in Brooklyn. They married on Jan. 29, 1939 at the Mater Dolorosa Church in Holyoke.

“They were married for 63 years,” Anop said. “They were very close and a really great match.” Stephen died in 2003 at the age of 90.

The Paszkos bought the farm Genevieve grew up on and raised chickens for eggs and meat, but mostly grew vegetables such as corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, asparagus, green and yellow beans, squash, rhubarb, melons, and pumpkins.

“My dad went to the farmers market at 3:30 every morning,” Anop said. “In the morning, she was in the field taking care of all the workers, and she’d be there all day long.”

Anop said that her mother would help cousins that immigrated from Poland “who did not speak a word of English” and find them a place to stay and employ them at the farm.

“She would employ young teens in Southampton to give them a job in the summer,” Anop said. “Also Polish ladies who need a job from Holyoke and Chicopee.”

A specialty of the farm became annual plants and flowers grown in the greenhouses behind their home.

In the 1970s, the Paszkos became the first Southampton farmers to sell their farmland development rights to the state to preserve most of their farmland in perpetuity. Paszko continued working in the greenhouse with her flowers and some vegetables until age 83.

Anop recalled her mother’s seamstress abilities and how Paszko made costumes for Anop’s dance recitals as a child. Paszko also made Easter coats and dresses.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Paszko was joined by her daughters, Emily Fitzgerald, Joan Rush and Anop, as well as two nieces and a son-in-law.

Paszko said she is hoping to celebrate her 100th birthday next year at the Delaney House in Holyoke.

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com.


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