Florence Sturgis was presented with the Boston Post Cane last Wednesday at a luncheon at the Steep Falls Fire Barn. Sturgis, 97, who has lived in Standish for the past 75 years (“Seventy-five and a half years”, as she quickly pointed out) received the cane from Town Manager Gordon Billington on behalf of the town for being the oldest resident of Standish.
The cane is one of 431 supplied by the old Boston Post Newspaper to the boards of selectmen from Maine towns back in 1909 to honor their oldest citizens. Although the canes are owned by the towns, recipients retain the honor and the cane for the remainder of their lives or until they move out of the town.
Of course, the publicity generated from the presentation of so many ebony canes with gold handles was actually calculated to sell more newspapers. Now, almost 100 years later, the paper is gone but the tradition of respect that was started so long ago remains.
Sturgis was born in Kennebunkport and graduated from Gorham Normal School. She taught school herself for a time, married Ralph Sturgis, and had nine children.
At last count, Sturgis figures she has 55 grandchildren and a number of great-grandchildren as well.
When Billington spoke about Sturgis’ life, he mentioned she had never learned to drive a car. To the delight of the appreciative audience, Sturgis added, “And I’ve never learned to milk a cow.”
Upon accepting the cane, this sharp, bright-eyed lady expressed her appreciation to the crowd: “Thank you very much for this cane. I’ll take very good care of it so that the next person who comes in will be able to enjoy it. God Bless…”
When asked her secret to long life Sturgis was matter-of-fact: “Actually, there’s no secret at all. You know these days they have this saying that if something’s wrong with you…it’s your genes. So, I’ve decided, it’s my genes.”
“When I told Gram she was going to receive the cane,” said Sturgis’ daughter-in-law, Lorraine Sturgis, “she said, ‘Oh my goodness! Surely there must be someone older than me.’ I said, ‘No, Gram, you’re the oldest.'”
After the presentation, many members of the audience shared fond memories of times they spent with Sturgis over the years. The celebration continued with a luncheon of baked chicken and mashed potatoes.
The old Boston Post Newspaper most likely never realized that their advertising gimmick would sustain itself far beyond the life of the paper. But perhaps that’s what the Boston Post Cane is all about: to honor maturity, to respect old age, and to confer upon each recipient a sense of approval from those in the community – not just for a day, but for posterity.