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A Century in the Making: Cornish Celebrates Centenarian

  • Helen Lovell, of Cornish, visits with Sister Mary Catherine of Ontario, Canada during Lovell's 100th birthday party at the Cornish, N.H. Town Hall Sunday, February 23, 2014. Both are members of the Sisters of St. Gregory, which Lovell joined at age 75. Ervin Livingston, Lovell's brother, of Claremont, left, talks with Ruth Rollins, of Cornish, right. "I'm only 94," said Livingston.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Helen Lovell, of Cornish, visits with Sister Mary Catherine of Ontario, Canada during Lovell's 100th birthday party at the Cornish, N.H. Town Hall Sunday, February 23, 2014. Both are members of the Sisters of St. Gregory, which Lovell joined at age 75. Ervin Livingston, Lovell's brother, of Claremont, left, talks with Ruth Rollins, of Cornish, right. "I'm only 94," said Livingston.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Helen Lovell, of Cornish, straightens her tiara after it was placed by her great-granddaughters Anna Burbank, 10, left, and Haley Couture, 12, during her 100th birthday party at the Cornish, N.H. Town Hall Sunday, February 23, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Helen Lovell, of Cornish, straightens her tiara after it was placed by her great-granddaughters Anna Burbank, 10, left, and Haley Couture, 12, during her 100th birthday party at the Cornish, N.H. Town Hall Sunday, February 23, 2014.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Helen Lovell, of Cornish, visits with Sister Mary Catherine of Ontario, Canada during Lovell's 100th birthday party at the Cornish, N.H. Town Hall Sunday, February 23, 2014. Both are members of the Sisters of St. Gregory, which Lovell joined at age 75. Ervin Livingston, Lovell's brother, of Claremont, left, talks with Ruth Rollins, of Cornish, right. "I'm only 94," said Livingston.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Helen Lovell, of Cornish, straightens her tiara after it was placed by her great-granddaughters Anna Burbank, 10, left, and Haley Couture, 12, during her 100th birthday party at the Cornish, N.H. Town Hall Sunday, February 23, 2014.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Cornish — Movement was all around Helen Lovell Sunday. Some of her fellow Cornish residents congregated at a table to her left, enjoying a gluten-free smorgasbord. Others sat at tables to her right while more scibbled memories on three-by-five cards and inserted them into a growing guest book.

Lovell herself sat in the middle of it all, gently rocking in a wooden chair while greeting dozens of well-wishers, all of whom were there to celebrate her upcoming 100th birthday.

“She’s very gregarious,” said Bernice Johnson, one of Lovell’s cousins, as Lovell took turns hugging her guests. “She loves everybody. She knows a lot of people.”

That seemed to the case on Sunday, when about 175 people crowded into the Cornish Town Hall to wish the longtime town resident well.

They were members of her family, of course — from sons and grandchildren to cousins and great-grandchildren — but also members of the Episcopalian Sisters of St. Gregory, of which Lovell is a part, and members of the New Hampshire wing of the Civil Air Patrol, an auxiliary of the Air Force that offers aerospace education, cadet training and assists with emergency services, for which Lovell served for nearly 35 years.

Some, like Karen Gillock, were quickly drawn into Lovell’s circle upon coming to the area. Gillock moved into the house next door to Lovell in 2002. One day during her first week there, she found a jar of jelly hanging from her front doorknob with a welcome note attached.

“We’ve been fast friends ever since,” said Gillock, who was one of five Cornish residents to plan the party.

Others, like Eric Poole, had only met Lovell in a non-tangible way, but were compelled to come to the celebration.

“I’ve talked to her on the radio for years,” said Poole, of Londonderry, N.H., another member of the air patrol. He saw Lovell in person for the first time on Sunday.

For her part, Lovell said on Sunday that Cornish has undergone “tremendous change” since she moved to her Root Hill Road home in 1956. Despite the town’s relatively small population — 1,640, according to the 2010 census — it’s a bustling metropolis compared to the Cornish of old, where Lovell said her children attended school in a one-room schoolhouse.

Lovell was born on Feb. 26, 1914, and grew up on her parents’ farm in Claremont. She graduated high school in 1932, several years after her mother died at 33 years old during a local flu epidemic. After a few years helping her father, she went to nursing school.

From there, Lovell began moving around the East Coast, spending two years in a deaconess program in New York City, then getting married to her husband, Rodney Lovell, in Connecticut. Eventually, the couple moved back to the Upper Valley. At one point, Lovell held a job as a short-order cook at the Windsor Diner.

She joined the air patrol in 1980, initially to support Rodney, and took up various duties within the organization’s ranks. Her tendency to answer radio calls when her husband wasn’t there to pick up the receiver ultimately led to a communications role.

Rodney Lovell died in 1990. Helen Lovell joined a local quilting club, a gardening club and doubled down on her air patrol duties and church life. She quit driving only two years ago.

But she remains active. During an accordion interlude in Sunday’s program, which included family and friends recounting memories, reading poems and showing a slideshow of old photos, Lovell stood from her rocking chair and began to dance with Jim Fitch, her second cousin.

As her grandmother’s birthday approached, Cynthia Couture had said earlier in the program, she asked if there was anything left on her bucket list she’d like to accomplish.

“Yes,” she remembered Lovell responding. “I want to live to 102 and a half.”

Couture asked why she chose such a specific number.

“I want to beat my uncle,” Lovell said. He lived to 102.”

Standing in a far corner of the town hall, Bunny Clancy, who lives down the street from Lovell, chuckled.

“That sounds like her,” Clancy said.

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.