When the town of Woodstock celebrated its bicentennial in June, its oldest citizen, LeRoy Daniel Day, was honored as grand marshal of the parade.
Day, a WWII veteran who turned 99 a few days after the event, was born just a year too late to have been present when the town marked its centennial 100 years earlier.
With the exception of a short time after high school and his years of military service, he has spent his entire life-so far-in Woodstock.
He was raised, along with two older half-sisters and a younger brother, in a farmhouse on the Gore Road.
Their mother was a talented musician who had once dreamed of being a con cert pianist, and some of his earliest memories are of her playing the piano in the evenings after the children were in bed.
For nearly 70 years Day has lived about a quarter of a mile from the family home where he grew up, in a house he built on the Bird Hill Road after he married his wife, Lois.
His daughter Mary lives just up the road and stops in every day after work to visit, fix his dinner, and help out with other chores, but he prizes his independence and self-sufficiency.
Although another daughter, Amy, who lives next door, now cares for the large vegetable gardens he tended for decades, he continues to look after his raspberry and blueberry bushes, rhubarb patch, and grapevines.
A grandson mows part of his lawn with a riding lawnmower, but Day says he still mows “quite a lot of it” himself with a push mower.
“I always keep busy,” he said, adding that he also takes his mower up the road about a mile to keep an old road on a neighbor’s property mowed.
An avid fisherman who has kept a record of every fish he has caught since World War II, he regrets that an episode last year with a blood clot in his leg has curtailed his ability to walk long distances.
“I used to go up to Upton, over to New Hampshire, all over,” he said. “But I haven’t been able to fish much this year.” He still likes to take his Jeep Liberty for a drive nearly every day, and when he does, he said, he has to watch his speed because the car “likes to go fast.” Dances, work, and war
Day attended the Locke’s Mills School as a child, often walking the two miles from home, but sometimes getting a ride in his grandfather’s horse-drawn wagon.
After elementary school, he attended Woodstock High School and graduated in 1934, the same month he turned 18. At that age, he said, he was expected to move out of the family home and find a job.
After working in several area wood mills, he settled into working nights at the E.L. Tebbetts Spool Company, boarding with his uncle and aunt, Charles and Dolly Day, who lived near the mill in Locke’s Mills.
“Aunt Dolly always had a glass of hot malted milk for me when I got home from the night shift,” he remembered.
Always sociable, Day enjoyed going to the area dances that were a chief form of entertainment for young adults in those days.
He joined the Franklin Grange in Bryant Pond while still in high school, and attended their dances regularly. Often, though, he found the Grange dances “kind of tame” and would stay for just a little while, before going in search of more excitement.
“At that time, there was a real ‘bucket-of-blood’ dance hall out in Milton, and they’d usually have at least a couple of fights out there,” he said with an appreciative chuckle.
After working for several years, in 1941 he was drafted and spent four years in the Army, more than half of that time at Dutch Harbor, in the Aleutian Islands.
His final year of service was spent in Manila, where he led a crew of men tasked with cleaning out roadside ditches, where they would often find unexploded shells buried in the dirt.
“We’d dig out the tops of them, then the bomb squad came and took care of them,” he said.
Asked if the work was scary, he replied, “Well, we didn’t think so at the time.” He did acknowledge being frightened, however, late in the war, when he and a friend, Lee Billings of Milton, who was stationed nearby, took an overnight trip to Ipo Dam. The dam was being held at the time by Japanese forces, and the two found themselves in close proximity to the continued bombing as U.S. forces fought to take it back.
“Too good to pass up”
After returning home from the Philippines, Day hoped to return to work E.L. Tebbetts, but “it took me a year and a half to get my job back,” he said.
In the meantime, he worked as a carpenter, picking up skills that would serve him well when he built his own home and, much later, houses for each of his daughters. But he was determined to get back to work in the mill.
“I went over there once or twice a week to ask about it,” he said.
Finally his persistence paid off, and he was hired back.
At 30, with a steady job, he was ready to settle down, but a lot had changed during his four years away from home. The girls his age he used to take dancing were no longer around.
“When I came out of the service, everyone I knew had either gotten married, or wasn’t interested,” he said.
But soon his friend Billings, who had begun dating his future wife, Emma Davis, introduced him to a friend of hers, Lois Hathaway. She was still in her teens, but Day recognized that she was someone special.
“Lois and I double-dated with Lee and Emma,” he said, and he knew right away that “Lois was too good to pass up.” When they were married in 1947 they moved first into a home Day created by moving a former overnight cabin to Woodstock from West Bethel and adding a porch and a second bedroom.
As their family grew, he started building a new house from the ground up.
“I dug the foundation by hand and put in cement block walls,” he said.
“I did everything in the evenings, after supper. I guess the neighbors probably got tired of all the hammering.” Over the years, as he and Lois raised two sons and two daughters, he added on to the new house as they needed more room.
The boys, George and John, arrived first, George in 1948 and John in 1950.
It was the February day when he had gone to Rumford to bring Lois and John home from the hospital, Day said, that the E.L. Tebbetts mill burned to the ground.
He helped to rebuild the mill, which became a manufacturer of knife handles. Huge rosewood logs were split with a sevenfoot chainsaw into pieces that could be put through the bolter, then sawed into slabs and cut in pieces to make the handles.
“We made billions of them,” Day said. “I ran everything at different times, except the bolter.” He also became a parttime millwright, maintaining the boilers, conveyor belts, and manufacturing equipment.
“I even painted the whole upper part of the mill one year,” said Day, who con tinued to work at the mill until he retired in 1986 at the age of 70.
For many years, the Days traveled on vacation with John and Althea Hathaway, Lois’s brother and sister-in-law.
“We went to England, Mexico, Mackinaw Island, Nova Scotia, the Alps. We took a lot of trips,” he said. “We saw the Rose Parade, the Mormon Tabernacle, New Orleans.” Whenever they traveled, the two couples played game after game of Skip-Bo.
“We probably played 10,000 games, and Lois and Althea usually won,” Day said.
“A pretty good life”
Despite having lived what he called “a pretty good life,” Day has had his share of heartache.
In 1977 his son George, a Vietnam veteran who was about to graduate from college, died of leukemia at the age of 28.
“You never get over it,” he said of the loss of his son.
Now Lois, his wife of 68 years, suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.
A year ago, Day had to face the realization that she needed the full-time care she could only receive in a nursing home.
“She took care of so many people in her life,” he said. “She took care of my mother, and her own mother. I took care of her here at home as long as I could.” His mother lived well into her 90s, and one of his sisters, Daisy LeClerc of Bethel, lived to be over 100. He attributes his own longevity to good genes, but also to staying active, with a variety of interests that keep him engaged.
“I’ve had a pretty busy life,” he said. “I think it’s a good thing.”