Rachel Gilbert celebrated as Laconia's oldest resident

LACONIA — ''What kind of a cane is this?'' asked 102-year-old Rachel Gilbert, after she was presented with the Laconia Centennial Cane in a ceremony at the Belknap County Nursing Home Tuesday afternoon.
Ann Dearborn Kaligian, who presented the cane, explained that it was a Centennial Cane, originally from the Dearborn family which her late husband, Bob, had first presented to Madeline Whalen, at that time the city's oldest resident, during the city's 1993 Centennial celebration.
"I never thought I'd require a cane,'' said Gilbert, who said that yesterday's ceremony ''was something I never expected.''
Kaligian recalled that Gilbert's husband, Eugene, built a ranch style house for her and her husband in Laconia in 1962 which cost them $16,000.
''He built a lot and I was the bookkeeper,'' said Gilbert, who despite her age still has vivid memories of growing up on Winter Street in Laconia as one of 11 children in the Frank Morin family. Her grandfather, J.P. Morin, owned the Belknap Mill.
Gilbert says that for two years when she was a teenager she took the train every day from Laconia to Concord, where she attended Concord Business School, earning a degree in business in 1929.
''I really appreciated that diploma. I still have it on the wall of my room here at the County Home,'' she says. ''It was a different time. But we had a lot of fun as a family.''
Her daughters Marie Anne Mills of Laconia and Helen Nickel of Gilford and son Paul Gilbert of Ellington, Conn., attended the ceremony, along with many members of both the Morin and Gilbert families.
''Dad was one a family of 16,'' said Nickel, who says that her parents were ''awesome people. There wasn't anything we didn't have. They provided a good education for all of us and were all that you could ask parents to be.''
Mills says that her mother was especially proud of her Concord Business College degree. ''She earned it in a time in which not many women went to college.
Gilbert is only the third person to receive the Centennial Cane. Bob Dearborn, who had started the tradition, died in 1996 and it wasn't until April of 2007 that the cane, which had been donated to the Laconia Historical & Museum Society, was rediscovered.
Last year it was presented to 101-year-old Doris Barnes, who was just a few months older than Gilbert. Barnes died in April.
Historical & Museum Society Director Brenda Polidoro presented Gilbert with a proclamation signed by the society's president Ernie Bolduc which reiterated the society's intent to carry on the tradition introduced by the Dearborns.
On an annual basis, the Society's Centennial Cane Committee will search to identify the eldest member in the Laconia community and present the cane to them during the month of July. Although the Centennial Cane will be part of the presentation ceremony, the cane will actually be kept on display at the Laconia Public Library, where the Laconia Historical and Museum Society's office is located.