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Nona Burtch Bruce

Thursday, March 13, 2014
Hanover, N.H. — Nona Burtch Bruce, a resident of Charlestown, N.H., for more than 30 years who moved to Hanover, N.H., in 2006, died March 10, age 104, at home at Wheelock Terrace.

Born in Branchport, N.Y, on April 14, 1909, Nona was a dedicated teacher and longtime school principal. Between 1955 and 1976, she worked at the Riverdale Neighborhood School, the elementary division of the Riverdale Country Day School in New York, where she eventually became the head of school.

After retiring at age 65, she moved to Charlestown, living on Main Street in a brick house next to the Congregational Church that had once served as the town’s one-room schoolhouse, built in 1772. An avid amateur historian, Nona joined the board of The Fort at No. 4 and served as board president. She also served for many years on the board of the Silsby Free Library and was honored for her work in 1990 by the New Hampshire Library Trustee Association. At age 97, she moved to Hanover to live with her son, Robert Bruce, her daughter-in-law Kathryn Stearns and their children for six years.

Nona was a lover of small towns, New England, American history, family genealogy, Beatrix Potter, all things British, cutting gardens, young children, and books of all sorts. In later years, she was rarely without reading material on her lap, devouring the sagas and historical novels she favored. She was fond of researching family history, which dates back to the Mayflower, and liked to claim that some of the furniture in her Charlestown home had been transported across the Mohawk Trail on the back of a wagon.

After surviving a bout of whooping cough at six weeks old, Nona spent a happy childhood near the shores of Lake Keuka in the Finger Lakes region. In her later years, she liked to regale her children and grandchildren, as well her many friends, with tales of small-town life in the early days of the 20th century, remembering her father’s general store in Branchport, the early telephone party line that allowed neighbors to listen in, and how she liked to sneak off to the town’s one-room grade school before she was old enough to enroll. The teacher finally relented and said, “Oh, let her stay,” auguring a life devoted to the education of young children. She attended Penn Yan Academy, graduating at age 16. She was a student at Beaver College and at William Smith College, graduating with honors at age 20. She taught school for a short time before marrying Robert Bruce, an attorney. They lived in Waccabuc, N.Y., and, later, the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

In mid-life, in connection with the long illness and subsequent death of her husband at age 51, Nona returned to school, enrolling in the Bank Street College of Education for a graduate degree, and resumed teaching. As the head of the Riverdale Neighborhood School, she was a wise mentor and adviser, beloved by students and parents.

Nona was an engaged member of the Charlestown community. She participated in civic life, attended the Congregational Church, and observed the passing of the seasons, sitting in her kitchen by the small wood stove she stoked with firewood that she had stacked herself. At age 89 she traveled to visit her son, then living in London, and joined a family expedition to Paris, where in a single day she spent the morning in Versailles, lunched in Montmartre, toured the Louvre and dined on the Left Bank — an itinerary that exhausted her grandchildren. Climbing the ancient steep steps of the Saint-Chapelle chapel, she remarked without apparent irony, “At times like these, I wish I were five years younger.” She continued driving her GM Saturn until age 95, when she turned in her license and with delight sold her pristine 10-year-old car to her mechanic for more than she paid for it.

Nona was a fiercely independent woman who once asserted, “I’m never bored.” She masked her political convictions by registering as an independent while living in Charlestown; once in Hanover, however, she declared herself a straight-ticket Democrat and proudly cast her vote for Barack Obama in 2008 and again in 2012.

At age 100, she was the recipient of a Boston Post cane, and on her wall were framed letters from both President Obama and the late Ray Burton of the New Hampshire Executive Council, honoring the centenarian of Hanover. She was pleased to be the oldest resident of Wheelock Terrace, the assisted living facility that was her home for the last year and a half of her long and full life.

Nona is survived by her son, Robert R. Bruce and his wife, Kathryn Stearns, of Hanover; two daughters, Mimi Young of Nantucket and Cilla Temple and her husband, Hunter Temple, of Santa Fe; and by eight grandchildren: Bracebridge Young of Cambridge, Mass.; William Young and his wife, Susan Young, of New Canaan, Conn.; Elizabeth Temple Kollar of St. Petersburg, Fla; Laura Temple Sullivan and her husband, Terry Sullivan, of Santa Fe, N.M.; Sydney Temple and his wife, Sarah Kupferberg, of Berkeley, Calif.; Dr. Benjamin Bruce of Delray Beach, Fla; Hannah Bruce of Washington, D.C.; and David Bruce of Hanover; and by 10 great-grandchildren.

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