Celebrating a century: At 100 years old, town native Peter Kaslauskas still lives in the home he built with his father 80 years ago

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 05-01-2023 12:30 PM

AMHERST — As a teenager, Peter Kaslauskas helped his father build a home on Summer Street in the Factory Hollow section of North Amherst, a place then known as Little Lithuania due to the Eastern European immigrant families, like his own, living there.

More than 80 years later, Kaslauskas is still in the same home, a short walk from Puffer’s Pond, but now a neighborhood with numerous renters, including college students.

On Friday, on the eve of his 100th birthday, Kaslauskas welcomed family, neighbors and Amherst’s legislative delegation to celebrate the milestone and to recognize him for his contributions to Amherst that often included manual labor, from cutting ice from the pond so families could keep food cold for the summer months to hauling coal to power the University of Massachusetts campus.

“I can’t believe it myself,” Kaslauskas said as he was presented citations from Rep. Mindy Domb and Sen. Jo Comerford. “I can’t believe this; there was always older people than me.”

Kaslauskas said he never shied away from work, driving a school bus in the mornings and afternoons, and then working his 9 to 5 job at Amherst College for 40 years as a painter and glazier. As a boy and young man, he would harvest ice from Puffer’s Pond, and also worked at the local sawmill and the sash company opposite the dam.

One of the neighbors, Barbara Puffer Garnier, recalls Kaslauskas driving her to and from school, and that her father, Stephen Puffer, hired Kaslasuska to work for his construction company.

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“He always said yes,” Puffer Garnier said of Kaslauskas. “My Dad saw him and he needed a guy.”

“He said to me, ‘Pete, you just want to work,’” Kaslauskas said. A button that he still possessed conferred his status as the 10th employee for Puffer Construction.

The ice harvesting was important work until 1943, and the colder the weather in November and December, the better for the workers, who could make money before Christmas.

Also at the birthday party were his daughter Sue Geissler and her husband, Eric Geissler, and neighbors Meg Gage, Stephen King and Nancy Kaminski, all of whom sang “happy birthday, Peter K.”

“Thank you. Thank you,” Kaslauskas said as he stood up to blow out the candles on the chocolate cake. His dinner was to be pierogis with onions.

Puffer Garnier than saluted him with champagne. “A toast to a fabulous life, a fabulous neighbor,” she said.

Kaslauskas first lived on Market Hill Road, then moved down to the Puffer’s Pond area. His mother spoke Russian and Lithuanian and he recalls a doctor going house to house to see if people needed help.

“Everyone was friends and everything like that,” said Kaslauskas, whose hobbies included hunting, fishing, gardening and watching sports.

Other reflections included his wearing hip boots and walking to school, riding the trolley from North Amherst for 2½ cents, as it made its way over the Notch to South Hadley and Holyoke, shopping at Bates’ store, delivering milk from the local dairy farms and seeing an icehouse on the pond burn down, turning the ice into mush.

Gage, who is working with others on creating a new history trail, said Kaslauskas has been a great resource.

Kaslauskas said he was grateful to be honored.

“This is more than I thought,” Kaslauskas said. “I really enjoyed seeing all these people.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.]]>