NORTH BENNINGTON -- If there is a secret to long life, Harriette Leidich knows it. The beloved North Bennington resident will tell you the key to longevity has a lot to do with family and love. And also, newspapers.
Leidich, who turns 102 today, is the oldest active newspaper columnist in the country ... and perhaps the world. She continues to write the "Senior Moments" column for the Banner, the latest installment of which can be read on page 6A.
Not a fan of the computer, Leidich mails her type-written columns on various topics to the Banner about once a month.
"I've had a wonderful life, and I wouldn't take back any of my stories ... they're all true," Leidich told the Banner on Friday, her final day as a 101-year-old. The flowers, cards, balloons and other birthday greetings were already starting to accumulate in her pleasant home.
Leidich says she feels blessed that she has all her faculties and to remain as independent as she can manage, with help from her son George Lerrigo, who lives next door, her son Charles, who lives in California, her devoted friends and the two nurses who look after her, Corrin and Janice. Leidich enjoys the fellowship at Second Congregational Church in Bennington, where she was feted last Sunday in anticipation of her birthday.
When asked at what age one becomes "old" the sharp-witted Leidich thought for a minute and then said "80." So, there you have it.
We asked readers on The Banner's Facebook page (where Harriette would likely not get wind of it as she's a daily reader of the Banner's print edition only) for a few remembrances and well wishes for her birthday.
Bennington resident Polly van der Linde said, "Happy birthday, Harriette! I love reading your columns -- the stories you share through your life experiences -- all 102 years of them (!) are awe-inspiring. I love that you are still writing on a daily basis and that the Bennington Banner continues to print your columns. We all need a little reminder of the little things in life that matter. You share just that in the details that you provide in your writings. Thank you for reminding us to notice these little details in life. If they help me to live to 102 too, I'll be tooting your horn!"
Martin Cummings of North Bennington contributed a photo of Leidich holding his newborn granddaughter.
"Harriette is our next door neighbor and good friend," Cummings said. "This is a picture of her holding our newborn granddaughter Nora. Harriette was born on April 19, 1912. Nora was born on April 19, 2012 -- exactly 100 years (to the day) after Harriette."
Karen Harrington wrote, "Happy Birthday Harriette! I fondly remember all the years you volunteered at the Bennington Museum. Not to mention your shopping trips there too. I always enjoy seeing you at the Bennington Museum. Have a wonderful birthday!"
Fellow Banner columnist Jane Griswold Radocchia wrote, "Of course wish her a Happy Birthday! And tell her I have happily read every one of her columns since I moved to Bennington 15 years ago. I've enjoyed them all."
Wendy Kerr Baker, Diane Carter, and Kelly Green Jenks said versions of "Happy Birthday, Harriette!"
Even those who haven't met Leidich yet well sent some well wishes.
Lisa Outwater Johnson said, "Happy birthday Harriette! You may not know me but I am in awe of your secret to longevity. Please have the best birthday ever. In time I'm sure I'll see you on the other side ... in which case I'll look forward to giving the biggest hug!"
Mel Shartrand shared on Facebook, "Happy Birthday Harriette. I don't know you but I wanted to say Happy Birthday."
Born in 1912, Harriette was the middle child in a family of nine children and says because of that positioning she got the best of everything growing up. She got her start in newspapers at the tender age of 5, when she was put to work folding papers at her father's newspaper, the Verdon Visitor, in Nebraska. Later, she ran the Linotype machine.
That puts her at 97 years (and counting) in the newspaper business.
Leidich said while she does regret never getting a formal college education, her education was in the working world of newspapers and in raising a family.
In 1936, she married her first husband, George Lerrigo, with whom she had two sons. The couple owned a chain of four newspapers in Overbrook, Kan., where Leidich learned all about the newspaper business.
"I learned the whole printing trade. I could put ads together, I could fill up the forms and run the Linotype and do the bookkeeping," she told the Banner in a 2012 interview. "When you own a newspaper you have to be the whole thing. You have to be the man on the street. You have to be whatever. You have to go to all the little town affairs."
During World War II, Leidich worked as a linotype operator in Excelsior Springs, Mo.
She later had a mimeographing business in Massachusetts and was editor of an award-winning newsletter for the League of Women Voters.
At age 65, Leidich married her second husband. The two resided in Delaware, a state Leidich said she liked very much. She's also lived and worked in Allentown, Pa., and several other states.
In 1995, she moved to North Bennington to be closer to her son, George Lerrigo. It was then that she began to write her column. She also enjoyed volunteering at the Bennington Museum, where she gained many good friends.
Although she doesn't care much for cake, Leidich said Friday that she plans to partake of her birthday cake and was looking forward to celebrating and spending time with family.
She is anxiously awaiting the birth of her first great-grandchild, a girl, to George's daughter Ellen, a New York resident. The baby is at full-term and could be born at any moment (and may already have had it). There was some speculation that the baby might be born on Harriette's birthday and would share that with her great-grandmother. That child will celebrate her 102nd birthday in 2116.
The Bennington Banner staff wishes Leidich a wonderful, family-filled birthday, and a safe journey to 103.
Send additional birthday wishes for Harriette to Michelle Karas at firstname.lastname@example.org.