Sunderland presents Boston Post cane to oldest resident Helen Rodak

  • Helen Rodak, 102, is flanked by Selectboard members Chrstyl Drake-Tremblay and Tom Fydenkevez as she is awarded the Boston Post golden cane, which recognizes her as the oldest citizen in the community. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • Sunderland resident Helen Rodak, 102, was awarded the Boston Post golden cane, which recognizes her as the oldest citizen in the community. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • Sunderland resident Helen Rodak, 102, was awarded the Boston Post golden cane, which recognizes her as the oldest citizen in the community. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

  • Sunderland resident Helen Rodak, 102, pictured here at her Amherst High School graduation in 1937, was awarded the Boston Post golden cane, which recognizes her as the oldest citizen in the community. STAFF PHOTO/CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer
Published: 2/5/2022 1:13:11 PM
Modified: 2/5/2022 1:11:35 PM

SUNDERLAND — In a tradition only a decade younger than her, Helen Rodak was presented the Boston Post golden cane last Thursday as Sunderland recognized her as the town’s oldest citizen.

The 102-year-old, who founded the restaurant Dimo’s, was joined by family at her home of 70 years on North Main Street as Town Administrator Geoff Kravitz and Selectboard members Tom Fydenkevez and Christyl Drake-Tremblay presented her with a commemorative pin, flowers and a certificate. The Boston Post cane itself was there for the presentation, but is kept at Town Hall for safekeeping.

“You’ve done so many things for the community,” Fydenkevez said. “She opened Dimo’s in 1974. She’s almost 60 years old and she’s opening a restaurant.”

Rodak’s 103rd birthday is next month.

The Boston Post cane tradition began in 1909 when Edwin Grozier, publisher of the Boston Post newspaper, distributed 431 gold-headed ebony canes to town Selectboards across New England. The cane, which is crafted using ebony wood from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was originally given to the oldest male resident of a town, but the tradition was expanded to women in 1930, according to Kravitz. The phrase, “Presented by the Boston Post to the oldest Citizen of Sunderland Mass” is inscribed on the 14-carat gold head of the cane.

Born March 16, 1919, Rodak was active and worked at Dimo’s until she became ill at age 97, but continues to chug along, according to her son, Ron Rodak, and her daughter, Linda Casse. They said she’s lost much of her hearing, but has retained her wits, has never worn glasses and is still able to walk around the house with the assistance of a walker.

“It’s amazing and it’s a privilege to see her make it this far,” Ron Rodak said.

Casse attributed her mother’s long life to avoiding cigarettes, long walks to church in South Deerfield and limiting her consumption of alcohol — a single glass of Kahlua and milk after Saturday work shifts and a small glass of champagne each New Year’s Eve.

The pandemic has kept her mostly homebound out of an abundance of caution, but she keeps herself busy.

“Ever since COVID, she hasn’t gone out much,” Ron Rodak said. “She loved to shop.”

Casse said her mother used to shy away from talking about her age, but now wears it as a badge of honor.

“It wasn’t too long ago that she didn’t want to admit to her age,” Casse said, “and now she’s proud of it.”

Helen Rodak has spent almost her entire life in Sunderland and graduated from Amherst High School in 1937. She said her family was “rich” because they owned a cow, chickens and a few apple trees. She worked at the Aqua Vita restaurant for 20 years before opening Dimo’s in 1974. She also moonlighted as a bus driver for several years.

Even though her age and the COVID-19 pandemic have slowed her down, she helps Ron Rodak make pies and traditional Polish recipes passed down from her mother.

Casse said her mother living this long can be a “double-edged sword” as she has suffered the loss of her husband and one of her three children many decades ago. At the same time, however, she’s been able to see her family grow to three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, and she still remains in good health to enjoy it.

“She’s seen a lot. … She’s a survivor, that’s for sure,” Casse said. “We can only hope to have that longevity.”

 

 


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