By Beth David, Editor
She’s 103 and going strong.
Therese Ledoux, well known in Acushnet and other environs because of her 30+ years as a kindergarten teacher at St. Francis Xavier School, had to watch from a second floor window as her birthday celebration took place outside.
A fire truck and police vehicles led a car parade, and family members and friends held signs and banners on the lawn of Our Lady’s Haven on Tuesday, 5/5/20, to wish a happy 103rd birthday to their former teacher, friend, mémére, grand mémére and “grand grand mémére.”
Restrictions on gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic prohibited a birthday party. No visitors are allowed inside long term care facilities at all, anyway. But according to grandson Mark Sylvia, Ms. Ledoux was “overwhelmed with joy.”
He said they spoke with her afterwards, and she was truly surprised. Staff at OLH took her to the window where she could see all the doings.
Mr. Sylvia said the family had hoped to have some sort of gathering, but when it became apparent that the restrictions would not be lifted in time, the family “rallied around doing something within the guidelines,” said Mr. Sylvia.
He said Ms. Ledoux has been at OLH for more than a year, decided on her own that she needed to go and leave her home of 70 years in Acushnet.
“She made that choice,” said Mr. Sylvia, adding that she has been a very active member of the OLH community, leading the rosary, joining in arts and crafts activities.
“She realized she needed to be actively engaged,” he said.
He said it is different now, but she has a “GrandPad,” which allows her to place video calls by simply pressing on the picture of the person she wants to call.
“So she’s connected to the outside world,” said Mr. Sylvia.
A lot of family members and friends are amazed that she is 103 and still “just totally engaged.”
What’s her secret? Mr. Sylvia said she would tell you it’s the three F’s: family, friends, faith.
“So for her, those things matter more than anything else,” said Mr. Sylvia, adding that she is the center of the family, and was the center of their community in Acushnet.
“She never looks for praise or recognition. She just is,” he said. “I think it has a lot to do with why she’s so vibrant.”
He said she is a strong person, a strong woman, and has been her whole life.
“We’re so lucky, we’re so lucky,” said Mr. Sylvia, noting that his children have had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with their great grandmother.
They always had Sunday dinner with her and “everybody would spend special time with her. It was wonderful.”
He said they wish they could do more now, but they do their best under the circumstances.
Ms. Ledoux brought up five daughters, but almost ended up being a nun. Her father, however, needed her help at his insurance company, so she left school in Canada and went to Rhode Island to help him. But she met her husband, and that was the end of the convent. They had five daughters, including a set of identical twins.
“They were poor, but they figured it all out,” said Mr. Sylvia.
He marvels at the span of her life: born in 1917, while World War II was still going on; she lived through the Spanish Flu. And, putting it in perspective, Fairhaven High School, built in 1906, was only 11 years old when she was born.
She grew up in the Millville, Mass., before going off to that convent, before anyone had cars, and even indoor plumbing.
There was no public school kindergarten in Acushnet when she started teaching the young ones in the basement of St. Francis Xavier church in the 1950s. She told the Standard-Times in 2005 that for some years she had 80 children a day, 40 in the morning, and 40 in the afternoon, and learned to acquire a lot of patience.
“My mother is the kindest, most patient, non judgmental, religious and loving person I know,” wrote Jeannette Sylvia in an email. “She has been a wife, mother, teacher, grandmother, great grandmother and great great grandmother. She has truly been an outstanding example to her whole family and has touched the hearts of so many people in Acushnet and surrounding communities for many years.”
Ms. Ledoux was the Standard-Times woman of year in 2005; received congressional recognition on her 100th birthday in 2017; received the Marian Medal and the St. Mary’s Award from the Diocese of Fall River, was a Girl Scout leader, and was involved in many activities and groups in her community.
Now she still reads a bit, and has been writing down her thoughts in a book that she gives to Mr. Sylvia, who is the family’s historian of sorts.
“She can still tell you all about it,” he said of her years at St. Francis. “That’s the wonderful thing. Her treasure trove of memories is priceless.”
Mr. Sylvia also said he is happy she is in Fairhaven now, so she can vote for him the next time he runs for office. Both times he won his school committee seat, his grandmother was his “lucky charm.”
They went out to breakfast on election day both times, and he won both times, but she could not vote for him. He briefly tried a run for Congress this year, but the COVID-19 pandemic hit and pretty much made it impossible to run a campaign.
But he looks forward to the next chance. She wore his sticker, he said.
“That was part of my motivation,” he said. “My grandmother is 103 and she can still vote for me.”
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