Helen Henderson

Miss Independent: 101-year-old Helen Henderson from Germantown

Photograph by Jennifer May

Helen Henderson has spent most of her 101 years in Germantown; after all, she is a direct descendant of the town’s founding Palatine settlers. And just like them she has always had an independent spirit. “When I was not quite five, my father decided he wasn’t going to the post office anymore, which was a mile away, so I went instead,” she says. She also remembers taking the train to Hudson alone at age 10 for piano lessons. Since she came of age during Prohibition (“but that didn’t mean there was no drinking,” she says), groups of friends would gather in Rhinebeck or Red Hook to play cards, which often turned into impromptu singalongs. Henderson received her teaching certificate in 1930 and taught in one-room schoolhouses in Livingston. “It was hard to fit everything in during the day,” she recalls. “But there were no discipline problems. Kids were different then.” In 1938 she moved to a Germantown school, where she instructed third-graders until 1972. The water always called to her — some of her happiest summer vacations were spent on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Cape Cod, and in California — and for several years she lived near the Hudson’s riverbank. “I was so entranced by the traffic on the river, I didn’t get any work done,” she says. The centenarian thanks her Scottish ancestors for her longevity; she walks daily; does her own cooking, dishes, and grocery shopping; and lives in her own apartment. While she had originally planned to retire in Mississippi, she ultimately opted to stay closer to home. “Things change,” she says. “You want to be by your relatives when you get older.”

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