Sunday Seniors: 102-year-old Hartford Cane recipient ‘just getting started’

  • Mary Nadeau, of the Hartford Historical Society, presents Fred Schleipman with the Hartford Cane during a ceremony at Valley Terrace honoring him as the town's oldest resident. Schleipman turned 102 last month. (Scott Fletcher photograph) Courtesy photograph—Courtesy photograph

  • Fred Schleipman talks during a ceremony honoring him as Hartford's oldest resident. Shleipman turned 102 in June and is currently working on builidng a cello from scratch. (Scott Fletcher photograph) Scott Fletcher photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/2/2022 6:52:02 PM
Modified: 7/2/2022 6:49:22 PM

Fred Schleipman is currently hewing a cello out of fir by hand.

While he’s not a cellist, Schleipman intends to learn to play the instrument once it’s finished. That would be an impressive feat for anyone; for a 102-year-old, it’d be astounding.

Schleipman and was honored Wednesday as Hartford’s oldest resident. He is the oldest recipient of the cane since the historical society started the ceremony in 2016.

“I’m just getting started,” Schleipman said as Mary Nadeau, of the Hartford Historical Society, presented him with the Hartford Cane on the porch of Valley Terrace. Beside him sat a wooden cane he made himself.

“You don’t look a day over 70,” Nadeau replied.

Schleipman was born on June 11, 1920, and grew up in Yonkers, N.Y., according to a biography compiled by Nadeau. He was offered scholarships to Dartmouth College, Cornell University and the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., but his parents insisted he work due to the Great Depression. He first worked at a plant nursery, then became an apprentice toolmaker at Otis Elevator in New York. After working 12-hour shifts during the day, he studied mechanical engineering at Columbia University at night. Schleipman met his wife, Dorothea, while working at Otis.

His father bought a farm in Monterey, Mass., where Schleipman worked until an outbreak of pneumonia killed the farm’s 22 cows. Next came a stint at Sterling Engineering in Connecticut.

“When the interviewer asked how much he expected to be paid, Fred offered to work for one week for free and then, ‘You tell me what you’ll pay me,’ ” according to Nadeau’s biography. “As a result, he was given some of the toughest jobs, but at the end of the trial period, he was rewarded with (a) top machinist salary.”

During a trip to the Upper Valley, Dorothea fell in love with Hanover, and the couple decided to make the region their home. He got a job running the machine shop at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering, and the couple bought a house in Norwich. Schleipman also taught classes in production and engineering. After five years at Dartmouth, he got a job at the engineering firm Creare, where he worked until retirement.

He continued to turn his attention to creating. One of his retirement projects was resurrecting the Porter Garden Telescope and founding a company, Telescopes of Vermont, to reproduce them. Later, Schleipman built the couple’s “retirement dream home on a hill in Norwich,” where he lived until moving to Valley Terrace last year.

“You’ve accomplished so much in your lifetime and undoubtedly touched many lives,” Nadeau said.

The key to a long life, Schleipman said, is “doing what you want to do, not what you have to do,” he said. “I just wish my partner could enjoy it with me,” he added, referencing his wife, who died in 2004. The couple have two children, Russell and Karen.

On Wednesday, Schleipman received a framed certificate from the Hartford Historical Society. His name will be added to a plaque that hangs alongside the Hartford Cane at Garipay House, the nonprofit’s museum in Hartford Village.

“Everyone who comes to the historical society will know you’re the big cheese,” Nadeau said.

After the presentation, Nadeau, Schleipman and Susan Scibetta, activities director at Valley Terrace, toasted with glasses of sparkling cider.

“He is a gift,” Scibetta said. “He has the kindest soul.”

Up next for Schleipman — in addition to working on his cello — is getting to know more of his fellow residents at Valley Terrace.

“I’d like to meet each one personally and learn about their lives,” he said.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at or 603-727-3221.

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