14 centenarians, or close to it, honored at Masonicare in Wallingford

reporter photo

WALLINGFORD — Fourteen Masonicare residents who are 99 years old or older attended a centenarian celebration Thursday, honoring their longevity and spirit.

The group included two 103-year-old women who share almost the same birthday — Aug. 28 and 29, 1918 — and two others who are sisters.

The centenarians — 13 women and one man, ages 99 to 103 — were joined by family members, friends, Masonicare CEO J.P. Venoit, other Masonicare staff and Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr., who played a trumpet salute to the group.

Beverly Bryda, Masonicare director of social services, pointed out that the oldest residents, born in 1918, currently are experiencing the second global pandemic of their lives.

The Spanish flu pandemic lasted from 1918 to 1920, during which 50 million people lost their lives.

Masonicare’s centenarian celebration is an annual event, but was cancelled last year due to COVID-19. Bryda said this year’s event was scaled back, but still included cake, coffee and company.

The sisters — Camille Bonocchi, 101, and Claire Souchuns, 99 — are roommates.

“That's pretty good genes in that family,” Bryda said. 

Bonocchi was born in Waterbury. She was raised in Wallingford, one of four children. She had a career as a hairdresser, and enjoys art, painting, drawing, reading and traveling.

She lived with her husband in North Haven before moving to Florida.

Souchuns was also born in Waterbury and raised in Wallingford. A member of Most Holy Trinity Church, she sent all five of her children to Holy Trinity School.

She went to business school, and worked her way up to manager at Parker's department store on Route 5.

The oldest residents are 103 years old — Blanche Lockert and another woman who was unable to sign a release allowing media to speak to her.

Locker’s grand niece, Robin Katzman, said Lockert lived in Wallingford, where her mother owned a general store, and North Haven, where her family had a farm.

She worked as a telephone and teletype operator at Crucible Steel. She was married to her husband, Thomas, for 74 years.

For most of her life, she was a member Most Holy Trinity Church. She used to crochet bears for children.

The other 103-year-old woman is an Italian immigrant and former Meriden resident, who was described by Bryda as having a “loving and kind spirit.”

Life 100 years ago

Bryda spoke about what life was like 100 years ago, when Warren G. Harding was president and life expectancy was 48 for men and 51 for women.

More than 95 percent of all the births took place at home. Only 6 percent of the population would have had a high school diploma. 

The average wage was 22 cents an hour, and workers could expect to make about $200 to $400 a year, Bryda said.

The 18th Amendment outlawing alcohol was ratified in 1918 and the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote in 1920.

Families would gather in the living room to listen to news, sports, comedy and music on the radio. New varieties of music became popular — jazz, blues, big bands — and new dances went along with them.

Clothing was highly stylized, and no one left home without a hat.


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