Arlene MacKillop, of Bryant Pond, born in 1925, holds the cane granted to the oldest citizen in town.  Rose Lincoln, Bethel Citizen

BRYANT POND —  In 1972, when she was in her late forties, Arlene MacKillop finally took art classes.

She’d go every Wednesday morning from 9 a.m. to noon when the all her kids were at school. “My husband talked to Professor Matolscy down in Norway and asked him if I could take lessons. He said I could come down and try. After six weeks all he said was, ‘your husband should be proud of you’. He never congratulated anyone. There were seven other women that had all been taking lessons for about seven or eight years. Me, I was a newbie. ”

One week they went to Buckfield Basin. She drew everything in pencil. “The following week the professor said, you can start painting. I looked at him and said, I don’t know how,” recalls MacKillop. Basin Falls was her very first oil painting and hangs on the wall near the kitchen.

As the oldest resident of Woodstock, MacKillop was presented with the Boston Post Cane by the Board of Selectmen and Town Manager last year. She is the 32nd resident of Woodstock to receive the cane since they were given to 431 New England Towns in 1909.

“I wasn’t expecting to get it. I didn’t feel like I was the oldest one in town. I’m afraid I think young too much. The kids have told me not to climb up on things,” said MacKillop.

When she started Matolscy’s class back in 1972, she was caring for five foster children and five biological children. Six were under age 10. Sometimes she and Howard would drive to the ocean or into the forest, so she could paint.


After about a year of classes, she overheard some of the other women artists talking. Their next model was going to be a male nude. She thought, “I have six young children at home and they look at everything I draw.” She decided to give up the class.

From when she was young, she had been drawing with pencil and ink, “any kind of little scrap of paper I could find, I’d draw on … My husband bought a book (of the Gibson Girls) because I used to like to draw heads, women’s heads with fancy hair.” Later she used children’s paint sets to do watercolors.

Over the years, she and Howard, her husband of nearly 60 years, were foster parents to dozens of children. Some came for a short time and others came and stayed until they grew up. People they knew sometimes just dropped off children that needed a place to live. The last five to come were siblings, the youngest was three and the oldest 10. “We kept them until they graduated and got married. They still visit. I’m still ‘Mom’ [to them],” said MacKillop.

Her children always brought friends home, adding more hungry mouths to the kitchen table.  She made 20 loaves of bread a week. “I love to cook,” said MacKillop. Along with a pony, the family always had one, sometimes two cows outside. They would sell extra milk for a dollar a gallon. They always owned Jerseys or Guernseys because they gave the most cream.

“[With the cream], Mom made butter, homemade whipped cream, ice cream and chocolate pudding,” said MacKillop’s daughter, Bonnie York, who moved back to 9 Elm Street with husband, Donald and dog, “Nugget” to help after her dad died.  The family made ice cream every Sunday in the winter. “The boys always wanted to crank last so they could get the dasher,” said MacKillop, with a laugh.

Just this last summer she made 106 quarts of spaghetti sauce, and 40 pints of zucchini relish. “She does all of it, I offer, but she wants to do it, so I let her,” said York.


Asked about a memory that is vivid, 97-year-old MacKillop says, “I lay there at night and think of a lot of things.”

Then she tells this story. “They had the Red Cross come in town [to] teach us how to swim and how to do lifesaving. I was about 15 then. My mother was desperately afraid of water and so she didn’t want us to swim. My brother used to sneak off with a friend and swim, but I didn’t dare to do that.  I got to learn to swim, how to hold people, how to drag them in if they were drowning. I loved the water after that.”

“When we moved here [Elm Street], oh boy, you could just walk down to the lake and take the kids swimming anytime you wanted to. This has been a good place to bring up children.”

Thinking further back, MacKillop said, “There was a war and my boyfriend went and joined the Marines and I didn’t see him for about three years. I wrote a letter every day.”  A month after he came home they were married. “I never dated anybody else. I never kissed anybody else. It was a good marriage.”

“Mom is very introverted, but when dad moved into town in the fifth grade, she said ‘that’s the boy I’m going to marry,” says York. Both Arlene (Swan was her maiden name) and Howard were students at the Woodstock School which was a two story building near where the current Town Office is situated. The fourth, fifth and sixth graders sat together. The high schoolers all sat in one big room, too, with the freshmen in the front and the seniors having the privilege of sitting in the back.

MacKillop graduated in 1944 with five other girls. The 10 boys they began school with all went into the service or into farming. A year earlier her boyfriend (and future husband) had left to go into the military to fight in World War II. He and the other marines landed in Guam first. On Okinawa he was shot in the leg. Upstairs, she has boxes of letters from him.


In 2005 he died of Alzheimer’s Disease. She states proudly, that she cared for him until the very end.

Besides their daughter, Bonnie, they raised, Paul, Neil, Gregory, Timothy and a few dozen foster children. She has six grandchildren and some great grandchildren, too.

Asked who her hero is, she said, “My father was a very quiet man. I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else. He was a hard worker. They had to hire three people to take his place [when he quit his job].”

MacKillop attended the nearby Bryant Pond Baptist Church, her whole life and later taught Sunday School there. Beside the mill on the pond, there was a natural amphitheater called Dearborn Grove, where she was saved at age 13. “I don’t remember that too much. When I was a little older and had time to think more about it, I got baptized again at Jane Mills’ (on Bryant Pond).”

MacKillop remembers with fondness her earliest memories living on Church Street in Woodstock, a dirt road, with very few cars and shaded by large elm trees. She says, “We were poor, it was during the depression. I never was hungry. I played outdoors, barefoot all summer.

“Shoes were something you got when you started school … I remember about half way through school, the soles started loosening up. We’d put jar rubbers on to hold the soles on the shoes. Everybody else’s shoes did the same thing, so we were all in the same boat. We did what we had to.

“We had good things in life. God has taken care of me all this time.”


The first thing she learned in drawing class was ‘sighting.’ Standing like this with one eye closed, she could guess that about seven pencils made up a whole body. Rose Lincoln, Bethel Citizen

MacKillop, of Bryant Pond, loved to draw people.  Rose Lincoln, Bethel Citizen

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